Late last year, I took to making lists for myself of different music I had listened to, what albums were some of personal favorites, what songs were my favorite from some of my favorite bands, and ranking albums by bands while explaining my reasons why. One of these lists, the first one actually, was a list of ten albums that, in my opinion, changed the way I listened to music from that point going forward, albums that were not just among my favorites, but I could say actually changed my life by changing the way I experienced music. On that list were some obvious picks like Kid A by Radiohead, and some more recent albums (but in my opinion still classics) like The Archandroid by Janelle Monae. However, another one of those albums was the debut by Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights. Previous to this album, I had not deeply explored indie rock or post-punk music, and I also did not have much experience with music that came across as both raucous and energetic while also having poetic lyrics and intricate melodies. It made me expect more out of what I listened to, realize that a whole world of music was out there which I might love if I just looked for it. It is a lesson I feel like several albums have taught me, and the first came then, back in 2011, when I bought Turn on the Bright Lights from a store on a whim.
However, I cannot say that my love of Interpol’s debut album made me excited for this one, their sixth. Turn on the Bright Lights was released a relatively long time ago now, and its not exactly been constant greatness coming from the band. Antics, their sophmore release, was good, but clearly was just trying to replicate the sort of success of the previous release. Our Love to Admire was a severe drop off in quality, and showed that the band was rather limited in their scope, since it sounded like a knock-off version of Antics. Then came the self-titled album, with a slight change in style that only worsened the band’s appeal by shooting for the lowest common denominator. Four years later, El Pintor would follow, which was a rebound for the band, but only because it once again showed them trying to remake Turn on the Bright Lights when that clearly was not going to be possible. That album had a special magic to it, and simply chasing it had yielded diminishing returns. That made hearing the singles leading to this album’s release, “The Rover” and “Number 10,” a bit disappointing, since it seemed the band was essentially doing the same thing again with slightly different production. And I actually felt like this album was average at best when I first listened to it on release day, with my fears mostly seeming to be confirmed. However, now that I have listened to the album several times since, I can say with confidence that this is not simply a good album, but is the best they have released since their stellar debut. Furthermore, the reason why is that this album might not be reinventing the wheel, nor is it a huge change from the band’s previous work, but it is an embrace of the hard-nosed side of the band’s sound while also standing out for how everything here is just catchy-as-hell rock and roll.
Case in point, Marauder starts with some of its strongest hooks and strongest tracks, making it clear that this is not unfamiliar territory, but there is certainly some altered features. “If You Really Love Nothing” kick starts it all with a driving drum and guitar beat, really evoking the image of stomping one’s foot on the ground. While Interpol has always been known for their slight garage rock leanings, “If You Really Love Nothing” has the simplicity and brighter tones that one might expect from a band like The Strokes, signaling right away that this album will not be the moody and gloomy affair most other Interpol music was in the past. Additionally, it should be apparent right away that Marauder is a much more lo-fi affair than most of their albums, which makes the sheer tones of the guitars, Paul Banks’s voice, and the drums all meld together into a soupy mixture that lends itself surprisingly well to the melodic structure of this and the others songs on the album. “If You Really Love Nothing” leads perfectly into the single “The Rover,” which has really grown on me as part of Marauder. The hook to this song is incredibly catchy, with Paul Bank’s vocals complimenting the hazy guitar work in just the right way. Lyrically, the song is not necessarily that strong, but this is where the production and garage rock style of the album is actually kind of genius. With a more high-octane musical style, the sheer energy and movement of the music here more than makes up for the lack of complex lyrics. Plus, there is nothing here like “There’s no I in threesome” (one of the band’s low points of their entire career), so it lacks the cringey qualities that occasionally plague Interpol’s lyrics. In fact, this is the case for just about the entire album.
After “The Rover” is another biting track by way of “Complications,” which hits hard and fast but also has some the albums best lyrical moments yet. The chorus in particular is very nice in this regard with lines like “Then a holier thinking fires me up again” conveying the idea of seeking a higher ideal that makes living a life of entertainment and debauchery more difficult, with this seeming to be the “complications” the title is referencing. It is definitely one of the album’s shining moments that shows what makes it special. Next is “Flight of Fancy,” a slight slowdown in tempo but definitely not lacking for emotional pull. If “Complications” showed that lyrical prowess was possible from the band, “Flight of Fancy” reveals this at its peak. The song begins with a lover wanting to know more about the other person, and not feeling like they are able to understand. This erupts into an act of defiance of free will, a declaration of “Well, I demand it. It’s just my agency. My flight of fancy.” Coupled with the powerful, swelling guitar work that works with the lo-fi production to sound more dream-like, we really get a full picture of someone declaring their right to their imagination, their thoughts, their agency. Its quite beautiful, actually, and comes at just the right time on the album. As good as they are, too many “The Rover” and “Complications” songs in a row would bog down the album after a while, so a shot at something more epic was welcome, especially when it is done this well.
Following up on this before a short interlude comes in (which was not completely necessary, but is not some kind of grave error in my opinion) is a pretty big change-up with the song “Stay in Touch.” From second one, we are hit with a heavy rock ‘n roll rhythm with a driving guitar riff to match. Considering the relative disconnect between this style of music and the post-punk origins of Interpol’s sound, “Stay in Touch” is definitely the biggest twist on Maruader, interesting for a long-time listener like myself just by virtue of its existence, though it also works surprisingly well just as it is. Lyrically, the song has a strong romantic and gothic streak to it, with lines like, “heaven receives and so do you” and, “I came to see you in starlight, and let electric fields yield to skin.” Other than this, its pretty straightforward as a song, with little in the way of variation to keep it interesting for its whole runtime. This is the first slight misstep on the album, since it does not quite justify its nearly five minutes in length.
Unfortunately, this is a sign of what is to come in tracks 7-9, as the album falls into a bit of a rut with mid-tempo, similarly composed tracks that have little to distinguish themselves from each other. “Mountain Child,” only hanging around for three minutes and thus only running for as long as it needs to, is the best song in this section of the album. Lyrically, we get more romantic/gothic sentiments like “You’re up in the trees like a heathen” which then get balanced out with a bit of naturalism by way of the second verse which states, “The snake in the reeds had me reeling. The smoke in the sky is clear in your eye. It’s a lean prophecy that I’m reading.” This leads to a more frantic end as the narrator seems to get more and more delirious. The narrative aspect keeps this song interesting in a major way, though it is a shame it comes first in this section since it is by far the most interesting one here. No kidding, even after multiple listens, I had to look up “NYSMAW” and “Surveilance” again to make sure I had the right songs, because I could not remember which was which without specifically focusing on them alone, which is not a good sign. In the end, neither song is all that bad, they are just underwhelming. Particularly, “NYSMAW” has a shining moment in the chorus as Paul Banks sings, “Give me the oversight inside the other. Give me the oversight inside the fantasy.” The band really delivers in this part to make this part of the song really hit home. The rest is just straightforward pop-influenced rock that seems more designed as a pleasant placeholder than a truly compelling track. But even recognizing this potential purpose, it did not really make it better. On the other hand, “Surveillance” has no real moments that stand out. The lines “this shit is made up, somebody paid for it” seems like it is supposed to grab the listener with its starkness, but is repeated so often with little commitment from Banks or the band behind him. Worst of all, the song runs for over four minutes, making it one of the longer songs on the album. Considering what else was here that was much more interesting, this definitely makes “Surveillance” stand out as the low point of the album.
After this, the album picks back up to peak territory with “Number 10,” my personal favorite track on the album overall. The song begins with a shimmering, dramatic guitar part that simultaneously reminds me of the best moments from Turn on the Bright Lights while having a brightness that is all its own. Lyrically, the song is pretty simple, but shines with how powerfully it is conveyed in simple to understand terms. It does not take a whole lot of effort to see that “Number 10” is about a struggling romantic relationship, but when Paul Banks sings an angry, exhausted “It gets old, it gets old” in the chorus, I really feel the conviction there in the song that grips me instantly. In my opinion, “Number 10” is everything about the album that is done right summed up in one song. It has bite and energy, its lyrics are interesting in how they are delivered instead of being forced poetics that end up falling through, and it is constantly interesting for its entire runtime by not letting itself go crazy with ideas that do not work to begin with.
In the final stretch are the songs “Party’s Over” and “It Probably Matters” (separated by another interlude that did not necessarily need to be there, but is ultimately inoffensive), with this whole section appearing to be the denouement of the album, cooling the mood slowly over time. The former track, in particular, is literally about bringing an end to things as they are. It has a very edgy appeal to it, with Interpol’s hallmarked meandering drama. “It Probably Matters” is the real end though, and stands out for really sounding like the assessment of what has come before it. The track is not dynamic in any way, opting for a smooth sentimental tone over the rough-edged nature of the rest of Marauder. It would not necessarily work well if it was anywhere else on the album, but “It Probably Matters” is placed right where it needs to be, at the end as a moment of afterthought. I will say that the song’s lyrics themselves seem more specific to the idea of relationships, though with much of the album addressing relationship issues, this still works pretty well. Still, I might have preferred if the song was a bit more abstract in addressing the idea of something “probably matter[ing],” but rather than wish it was something else, I prefer to look at the song for what it is, and what it is is a great closer.
At this point on my first listen, I looked back on an album I thought was interesting, far from Interpol’s worst, but ultimately pretty average. I was thinking about a 6, and definitely thought that would be my final rating to sum up my feeling about Marauder. Nonetheless, I knew I needed to listen to it again to make sure, and it was from that second listen onward that the album has grown in my mind to be one of my favorite albums from this band. I started to notice what the band was doing, how all of it worked and kept my attention even as I knew what was coming, and how it stayed in my mind long after it stopped playing. While I do not think a song being catchy equals it being good, when a band like Interpol can make tracks like “The Rover” and “Number 10” stick in my head for their quality, it makes me believe they are just simply that good. I started this review by noting that Turn on the Bright Lights was an album that made me look at music differently and listen to it with a new frame of reference. While Marauder is not flawless or on the level of that classic, it has reminded me of something important to keep in mind about music: sometimes it takes a couple of listens for music to settle in and reveal just how amazing it really is, but when it does it is worth the time invested in it, and then some.