Review of Turn on the Bright Lights: 10th Anniversary Edition Album by Interpol

For the aging music fan it's almost a little depressing to see special edition re-releases. 10 years since Turn on the Bright Lights? Really... What on earth have I been doing with my decade? The album's original release tour is still not all too dim in my mind. 

Interpol Turn on the Bright Lights: 10th Anniversary Edition Album

Whether the disbelief registers or not, it has indeed been ten years since the NY quartet released this landmark debut album. Considering their career in retrospect, Turn on the Bright Lights has been to Interpol equal parts blessing and curse: one which at the time cemented them as worthy, gloomy adversaries to the likes of The Strokes or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and yet it was for some a high watermark which the band have struggled to reach again. Reading most critical appreciation of their catalogue since will at some point lament upon Interpol's inability to revisit this envisioned summit. 

The problem is of course that TOTBL was created and released in the rubble of 9/11. It shouldered the post-apocalyptic feelings of a city in ruins oh-so-neatly upon its haunting 12 tracks of post-punk and became an instant classic which, as classics albums tend to, took on a life of its own. Even Paul Banks disjointed lyricisms and monotone delivery, seen best on 'Obstacle #1' or 'PDA,' seemed to speak of the aftermath of tragedy. When people look back at TOTBL, they see not through rose-tinted spectacles, but black sunglasses. 

It's worth noting that despite this, Interpol have pushed on, perhaps achieving more than their harshest critics would suggest: through the departure of a core member, Paul Banks' solo output under Julian Plenti and his own name, and have produced work both sublime (Antics) and decent (S/T). However clamorous the nostalgia for this record is, they should not to be consigned to the annals of past heroes just yet. 

A good re-release should ideally offer something for new fans and collectors alike. TOTBL has been duly repackaged with some extras: the B-sides from the singles, 3 waves of album demos and the Peel sessions for the BBC. The scrappier early demos are interesting if not remarkable: Banks' vocals not fully confident, lacking in the soaring polish that Peter Katis and Gareth Jones would later lend to the production. 

The second and third demos are more realised, the chronology really giving a feel to the development of their sound. Particular gems include the demo version of 'Stella...': slower and with added delay, allowing the dreamy top line guitar to shimmer and the vocals to echo sublimely. 'Specialist' is a nice little curio: included on the band's self-titled EP but omitted from the album as a b-side. The lyrics are Paul Banks at his most dense and nonsensical, somehow both amusing and strangely affecting at the same time. Another trinket is 'Galivan,' a stripped back and static-y late demo. Filled with a creeping malaise it is possessing and singular, it expounds traits that Interpol have arguably come to perfect within their decade together. 

It would be improbable that a new wave of fans would rush to Turn on the Bright Lights with the eagerness of those who embraced it first time around. But for the people who do, it's unavoidable: whichever way you slice it; this was and is a fine, fine record - a perfect storm of style, production and substance that has made its legacy last this long. It still sounds fresh 10 years later and may do so in 2022. 

Natalie Kaye

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