It is a sad but unavoidable fact of the music business that follow-ups to sensational debuts are inevitably plagued by expectation. Interpol’s first album, “Turn on the Bright Lights,” is a masterpiece, a dense but delicate opus of atmospheric moodiness. It is a record that gets better with every listen. “Antics,” the band’s newly released sophomore effort, just doesn’t hold a candle to it.
To be sure, the record has its fair share of high points — especially the blistering “Slow Hands” — but its inconsistency and, worse, repetitiveness seem especially unforgivable, considering the bursting creativity of its predecessor. At best, “Antics” is an interesting and worthwhile listen, but it is, above all else, a major disappointment.
2002 was quite the year for the New York City rock scene. The veteran, Sonic Youth, responded to the previous year’s catastrophe with “Murray Street,” a beautifully melancholic album. (Its title comes from the city street that the band’s downtown studio is on, where a plane engine fell on 9/11.) Interpol’s sound often channels the atmosphere of “Murray Street,” though their gloominess seems to stem more from late-night loneliness than the terrorist attacks.
It was in 2002 that Interpol became famous, along with the heady crop of young, hyped New York bands (the Strokes, the Walkmen, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, et al). Though the groups neither look nor sound exactly alike, their debuts all carve individual sounds from late-70s and early-80’s punk.
Inerpol’s first album, “Turn on the Bright Lights,” is almost instantly likeable. While its gloom might be a turn-off for some, only a few listens reveal its carefully crafted denseness. In contrast, “Antics” is a shallow record. Its songs are second-rate, lacking both the piercing melodies and the layered instrumentation of tracks like “NYC” and “New” from “Bright Lights.” Even the best tracks on “Antics” build the listener up only to let the listener down, flat-lining just when they seem to be getting somewhere new.
The album’s opener, “Last Exit,” is a case in point. It opens promisingly with a playful organ sedately humming two rounds of the song’s chords. Singer Paul Banks comes in — “We ain’t goin’ to the town,” he informs — and on the last word the bass drum hits and a single guitar note strikes. The song has little else than the minimally played drums and guitar, but for a while the simple structure (the four “Heart and Soul” chords the whole way through) seems appropriately inebriated. The song creates the perfect backdrop for roaring guitars — a la Neil Young, for instance — but what instead fills the spaces between the verses are barely-audible strings, a la Neil Diamond. It is a letdown.
As a result of the monotony that plagues most of its songs, “Antics” eventually becomes painfully repetitive. Most of the album becomes mired in grooves that are certainly tightly-knit though easily forgettable and ones that lack the underlying emotion the band is capable of.
“Slow Hands,” on the other hand, builds from what first seems like a boring beat into a roaring track. Like Franz Ferdinand’s brilliant “Take Me Out,” the song slyly tips into its chorus, an angry chant charged by the band’s sinister energy. With an ambitious bass line playing along to the two crunchy guitars, it is almost impossible not to nod your head along.
“Evil” peaks with similar moments of furiousness, which are sparked in this case by Sam Fogarino’s relentless drumming. The song is played with the menacing crispness that is a marked quality of the band at their best. Other highlights of the album are “Public Pervert,” which ends with a multilayered richness worthy of Radiohead, and “Length of Love,” a song that distinguishes itself with a moody, nostalgic synthesizer. In that song’s second half, the bass and drum merge together seamlessly, thumping along underneath the song’s surface, allowing the band’s two guitars to play off the beat, and then off each other.
“Antics” is disappointing not only because of the unimaginativeness of its songs and monotony of its sound, but because it seems like such a big step backward for a band whose debut was so inspired. 2002’s “Turn on the Bright Lights” is bursting with ideas and feeling, “Antics” largely lacks both.