Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #77 Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
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#77 Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
Turn on the Bright Lights is laden with metropolitan imagery, both in lyrical content and in the rushing instrumentation, which streaks by like a time-lapse of New York's downtown grid. The first time I put this one on, the opening track struck me as a subversive lullabye – the sleepy echo of guitars shimmering like streetlamps reflecting off a skyscraper's windows. Paul Banks' vague promise is comforting – "I will surprise you some time / I'll come 'round when you're down" – but the conspicuous absence of explanation through the end of the lead track sets up the rollercoaster ride that is Bright Lights: emotional surge / hollow, aching letdown / recoup / repeat. Wait, who's down – and why? And why are you the one to come to the rescue? As is so peculiar about his style, Banks tends to offer a set of questionless answers – leaving us to fill in the blanks.
Banks is admittedly guilty of dipping too far into impressionism at times, but when the lyrics hit, they hit hard. So often the physical is the gateway to the emotional. In "NYC," the chorus manipulates an ever-shifting city into a faceless accusation: "the subway, she is a porno / and the pavements, they are a mess / I know you've supported me for a long time / somehow I'm not impressed." Banks is a master of these sudden turns. This isn't, as lesser lyricists attempt, a simple ode to The City; it is a portrait of Banks as the the pawn of his surroundings. The claustrophobia is more textured because, at times in Bright Lights, there is joy and energy and urban electricity whooshing by just inches from his haggard face. That texture permeates everything that is offered across these 49 minutes – you even see it in the title.
This is also one of the rare albums where, at some point or another, I've considered every single song my favorite. There is absolutely no slack as far as quality is concerned. For being such a straightforward guitar / bass / drums / keyboard setup, Interpol can oscillate between loud and soft, fast and slow, dense and minimalist with unbelievable ease. It triggers associations with the blissfully disorienting nature of city life. For everything it accomplishes, I wouldn't drop this record from my collection in a hundred years – it's magnificently coherent and honest to its ambitions: a dark rock record that will take you on an aural cab ride through a city swarmed with night.