Interpol — Turn on the Bright Lights
Blogcritics' own Kenan Hebert is right that Interpol's first impressive full-length, Turn on the Bright Lights, is the album of the year thus far. He and other critics are also right that the frequent comparisons between the vocal styles of Interpol frontman, Paul Banks, and Joy Division frontman, Ian Curtis, are obviously unavoidable. But the comparison of Interpol to Joy Division as bands to which seemingly every critic has alluded runs thin for two significant reasons, the second of which Hebert touched upon in his well-written and insightful review of album-of-the-year candidate, Turn on the Bright Lights.
First, to be honest, the critics are right in that Banks' voice at times bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Joy Division's Curtis. Let's get picky, though. Banks only sounds like Curtis when he bellows: compare, for example, Banks' haunting "She broke away/She broke awaaaay" to Curtis yelling "Dance, dance, dance to the radio" in Transmission. When Banks croons, however, he and Curtis sound nothing alike, and the recurrent comparisons fall short. As Kenan pointed out the lyrical difference between the two frontmen — most notably, Banks' more optimistic lyrics — the same discrepancy is embodied in the vocal style of each. While Curtis virtually never comes across sounding warm and engaging, Banks does so with great frequency. Banks voice is simply more high-spirited and human — as illustrations, listen to Interpol's first single, NYC (download here), Leif Erikson, and Say Hello to the Angels.
Second, instrumentally, Interpol and Joy Division have very little in common. To begin with, the percussion style of Joy Division's Stephen Morris is precise, mechanical, and oftentimes fierce (see especially Heart and Soul), while Sam Fogarino's style is noticeably more fluid and, well, more alive. Next, the nearly uniformly distant production of Joy Division's work coupled with the metallic and disquieted voice (and, of course, lyrics) of frontman Ian Curtis worked to create a singluar coldness previously unmatched in thirty years of rock history — this, perhaps the most ironic twist given Curtis' undeniably expressive and emotive lyrics. With the rare exceptions of Love Will Tear Us Apart and Atmosphere, lush and organic are adjectives that cannot be attributed to Joy Division's songs (consider especially She's Lost Control, Passover, and Something Must Break). Joy Division, though labeled as the first post-punk band (read Stephen Thomas Erlewine's excellent, but brief, essay tracing the history of post-punk), nevertheless embodied many of the essential qualities of early punk rock. In contrast, Interpol's music is gorgeously lush and dense with layers of guitars, effects, and occasional keyboards, with only scant traces of punk rock (this stark contrast is especially evident in Hands Away, Untitled, and The New).