REVIEW: Interpol – A Fine Mess

I should start with a confession. When I signed up for this review I already knew – without hearing any of the songs – how it would go. The EP would be good. It would be fast and frantic. It would be unmistakably Interpol. It wouldn’t, however, be anywhere near as good as the band’s first two albums.

Was I right? Yes. And no. Mostly yes.

Like many people my age, Interpol’s first two offerings, Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, will always be linked with a certain, exciting time in my life. Going out, dancing, singing along even though you didn’t know the words. The music was energetic, dirty… and important. You felt a part of something. In a way, as a late teen, that you never really will again.

Against this backdrop, what chance does A Fine Mess – or any other new Interpol material – really have? An easy criticism is that the band doesn’t take risks. The music’s always fast, always dark, always spiky. But how disappointed would we be if they completely changed tack?

Fear not. This EP is, of course, more of the same. On first listen, preconceptions in tow, I struggled with it. Only five songs in total – offcuts from last year’s full-length Marauder album – A Fine Mess sounds incredibly raw. The opener and title track, particularly so.

It’s a bit messy, a bit difficult, and very full-on. It was only while walking around Manchester, grey and wet, headphones on and volume UP, that it started to make sense.

I guess that’s the thing with Interpol; they’re a city band. You wouldn’t listen to them on a country walk. You would, however, listen to them winding through compact, imposing streets. With its ever-expanding skyline, you could almost (on a dark night, and if you squint) mistake Manchester for the place with which Interpol will forever be intertwined: New York City.

In this mindset, I finally started to get the songs. ‘No Big Deal’ is catchier, more soulful. ‘Real Life’ makes your head nod, your feet tap. It’s only in bursts, however, that the closing two tracks make an impression. ‘The Weekend’ jutters along, glinting only at intervals, while ‘Thrones’ offers an ending almost as underwhelming as a certain TV show of a similar name. The best days of both, seemingly, long since passed.  

Will Interpol ever have a triumphant second wind? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure I really want them to. Secretly – greedily – I want their best stuff to be from when I was a little younger. My fringe straighter, my jeans tighter, my shoes pointier. My life more urgent.

A Fine Mess? A fine attempt that doesn’t quite reach those early heights. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Words by Joe Shervin

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