Interpol, one of the pioneer's of the early 00's New York music scene, hit a bit of wall as the millennium entered its second decade. The self-titled addition to their discography, while not without highlights, became a wearisome trudge towards the finish line, which was a shame, as the record's bleak aesthetic was in many ways entirely characteristic of their overall sound. Having shed a member in bassist Dengler (frontman Paul Banks fills in admirably here), much of the bloat in sound picked up over the years has also disappeared on 'El Pintor', album number five in a career that now has some much-needed forward momentum.
Opener 'All The Rage Back Home' overcomes a red herring 'Next Exit'-ish intro to emerge as Interpol's most urgent curtain-raiser yet. Faster does not automatically mean better, but the more stately tempos of later material have exposed cracks in the Interpol machine. Sometimes, pace is indeed the trick. Daniel Kessler, like few other guitarists, can create dreamy soundscapes to build an album around, and with a rhythm section as tight as is present here, it is very difficult to not strike gold.
'My Desire', 'Same Town, New Story' and 'My Blue Supreme' all drift along languidly, underpinned by some typical Kessler chimes, while the lyrical mode of Banks is as ever strangely unsettling at times - tales of desire-related frustration is business as usual for someone who once claimed to be a "scavenger between the sheets of union". There isn't much immediacy here, but the ear-worm melodies reveal themselves and burrow deep with a few listens. To use the word 'highlights' may be misleading, as everything is of a broadly similar high standard.
'Anywhere' is a pounding and quite stirring number that doesn't let up from start to finish. Live performances of the song see the band speed things up even more, but the 'El Pintor' version is no slouch, and is perhaps the band's catchiest song since 'Slow Hands'. The comparisons to 'Antics', Interpol's much-loved second album, are impossible to avoid, and while the sometimes overbearing production ensures the quality does not match that landmark, the tunes are undeniable.
The issue of Carlos' departure was a thorny issue for some, but 'Everything Is Wrong' is front-loaded with the kind of jet-powered bass-line we could have been forgiven for thinking was history. The song itself blossoms into a series of Kessler guitar explosions, while Banks croons the word "truly" over and over. The band certainly weren't counting this song when deciding its title.
While 'Ancient Ways' is a 'wall of sound' experiment that doesn't quite come off, this may be in part down to the aforementioned production, where there is occasionally little room to breathe between the instruments. This problem is overcome on the penultimate 'Tidal Wave', which recalls the very best of The Killers' debut album. As it reaches boiling point on the outro, Banks again shows off his bass chops, while the perfectly-judged electronics make for something of a climax for the record.
'Twice As Hard' winds the album down for a chilled out yet still cathartic close. One complaint that does dog the album is the lyrical repetition; every title of every song is repeated to within an inch of its life, and if the album wasn't so succinct this would be serious cause for concern.
As it is, we must be satisfied with an album that sees Interpol regain their footing as a band of relevance and one to expect continued riches from. Who knows, we may even see a new bassist enter the fold for future albums, but if records like this can come from a pared-down three-piece there is no need to panic on that front.