Let’s face it, Interpol were by some distance the dullest band of the early 2000s indie-rock revival wave. Yet I had enough admiration for 2004’s Antics – in my view, their best, a solid rock album – to have followed their career trajectory ever since, through its downs and downs.
Marauder may be their most solid work since that 2004 peak, but it’s hardly engrossing enough to merit all that many repeat listens. The usual caveats apply – songwriting ok-to-weak, Paul Banks’ vocals difficult to access emotionally, Daniel Kessler’s guitar work not consistently engrossing enough. But there’s some diamonds hidden in the rough.
I’ll track-by-track the rest of this review to try and find them:
Drums propel the first track “If You Really Love Nothing” into your consciousness, but it won’t lodge there. It moves along pleasantly enough, sure, thanks to Kessler’s hard work, and of course that attention-grabbing drumming. And the lyrics won’t offend you. But, yeah, there’s really nothing to love about it.
There’s more to get excited about on “The Rover”, with Banks’ vocal for once providing something akin to a hook in his singing of the title phrase. The band urge him on, to come out of his curious introverted shell, and their urgency works in this case. “The Rover” is the work of a group of musicians of limited technical abilities working together to bring out the best in each other, which has been a rock band’s primary reason for existence, and what’s made rock music great, ever since The Beatles. As a singer, Banks is of course no Lennon, McCartney or Harrison. But when he tries, he beats poor old Starr.
“Complications” follows, a humdrum affair typical of this band’s often lackadaisical approach to songwriting. They think the tension and atmospherics combined will manage to pull them through the lack of any memorable hooks, licks or ideas. But it doesn’t.
“There’s a part of me that over-blooms” Banks yaps unconvincingly on “Flight of Fancy” – over-blooming, at least in his music, has never been a problem. His style is too claustrophobic, and much too repressed. That’s why I’ve never understood the Ian Curtis comparisons – he simply doesn’t have an unalloyed emotional triumph like “Atmosphere” inside of him, which is one of several Joy Division tracks to over-bloom wonderfully. “Flight of Fancy”? That’s even less likely for Banks than over-blooming. But “the pink house returns to gloom” – yep, that’s more like him.
“Stay in Touch” can be skipped. Kessler’s guitar work at the end is the musical equivalent of yawning.
“Interlude 1” is a sign that it’s best to leave the album for a while. Come back and try to access it again later.
Because there are worthwhile moments to come – “Mountain Child” is a solid rocker, building up to the declaration “I’m a kind of hero” that sounds invigorating because of the guitar surging supportively behind and eventually surrounding Banks. He may indeed be some kind of hero – not mine, but to others more attuned to his aesthetic. Songs like “Mountain Child” help me a little bit towards seeing why.
Banks references a genuine hero of mine at the start of “Nysmaw” by mentioning “Alphabet Street”. It’s a nice homage, even if I’ve never heard anything of Prince’s omnivorous musicality and personal warmth in Interpol. The two acts are different beasts, sure. But listen to “Alphabet St.” and “Nysmaw” back-to-back, and you can’t fail to hear the difference between greatness and the merely passable.
“Surveillance” takes an important topic and does little with it. “We are living something frame by frame” – fine. “We are leaving something frame by frame” – eh?! That “something” repeated again and again in the lyric gets exposed for cluelessness fairly quickly.
They’re more focussed on “Number 10”, luckily, which starts off with a brief showcase for Kessler before diving into the song proper, one of their best on the album. I admire the brevity of their experimentations, which would get truly insufferable at greater length. So when they jam out on the short coda, my ears allow them the indulgence.
“Party’s Over” they declare on the following track, as if it had ever really begun.
Which is why “Interlude 2” is another welcome break. And it’s somewhat pretty in a spacey kind of way.
Final track “It Probably Matters” contains Banks’ best work on the album, exploiting microscopic warbles in his voice to wrench a little bit of feeling out of the dry lyrics and arid musical backdrop. But it’s not enough to rescue Marauder, and it seems to me that only huge fans will be able to keep this album on heavy rotation (hell, even on light rotation) throughout the rest of the year.
I realise this review has been disjointed and fragmentary. But so is the album. It doesn’t cohere into a full, satisfying work, and, as has been explored, the parts simply don’t hold up all too well on their own either.
So Interpol don’t fit in well with the streaming era? We can forgive them for that. But I’m pretty sure this album wouldn’t hold up well in any other era.