Did you know that Paul Banks is now 41? All of your alternative-rock dream boys from 2004 are middle-aged-ass men now. How does that make you feel? Aging, of course. Well, the pretty boys may have aged but their music has not. Interpol hasn’t suffered the years. They may have, in their early days, suffered from critics who compared them to depressing New Wave bands from the 80’s, but they’ve outlived any and all ‘being the next whoever’ hype. They never sounded like whatever was trending in the early 2000’s, and now whatever was trending in the early 2000’s sounds like a bad flashback, and Interpol sounds downright timeless.
I have to say, this is one of the most irritating songs by an artist I otherwise greatly enjoy. Right up there with Daft Punk’s Technologic. Fatboy Slim has made some of the most genre-expanding electronic music of our times. In this case, he really nailed the exact formula for maximum irritate-the-adults effect. And yet, I still find myself enjoying this grating song on some level. For one thing, I find it rather funny. It came out in 2004, when the words ‘dot com’ could still serve as a punchline. This was when consumers were flabbergasted to find that the Dole banana company had its own website, and the internet in general still felt like a vaguely shiesty youth fad. Now we take it for granted that literally everything under the sun can be appended with a dot com, gov, org, edu, etc. We barely remember when just saying “dot com” after a string of absolute gibberish was qualified as an edgy joke. The language is of URLs and hashtags is our lingua franca now. Live with it.
This is as good a facsimile of a Tom Waits song that anyone has ever recorded, and ‘fake Tom Waits’ is almost its own genre. That’s a compliment. Modest Mouse has managed to get some hit songs on the radio, but deep – or not that deep, really – down inside, they’re hopeless eccentrics. So much so that one wonders how can someone so weird become so popular. Enough consumers apparently have good taste to allow at least a few confirmed weirdos to make a career of it, and if that doesn’t restore some measure of faith in humanity, I don’t know, go watch a cat video or something. Personally, I still find humanity pretty suspect, but discovering Modest Mouse – well after they became widely successful, because I’m a square, apparently – did help restore my faith in pop culture. It ain’t dead, you know.
I imagine that Interpol must be tired of being compared to Joy Division (though it is an honor) and it’s an uncreative thing for a critic to write, but damn, this song reeeaallly reminds me of Joy Division. Not just because everything disaffected and depressing screams Joy Division. Intentionally or not, there’s a lyrical echo of Day of the Lords that’s impossible to miss. That classic song is as bleak as the Holocaust, which is what I think it might actually be about. This one is merely about love. Still, I can’t unhear the common thread. Bodies obtained may remain.
It’s weird to think that Modest Mouse may already be nostalgia music for some people. But they’re a ‘new band’! So much time has passed! This album came out the year I turned 21, which, obviously, is kind of a formative age. I experienced a huge wave of music discovery around that time, adding more new groups to my roster of favorites than I ever thought possible. Aside from making the kind of poor decisions that you don’t know are going to completely derail the course of your life, you spend your early adult years just learning to be a person, and the tastes you pick up should, if you’re lucky, stay with you for the long haul. So many things have fallen away since then; acquaintances, possessions, habits, brain cells, time zones. Many memories have had to be willfully blanked out; mistakes learned from, or not. I feel no warm, fuzzy feelings, no nostalgic glow for those years. But I remember listening to Modest Mouse on road trips, back when driving from one state to another with a box of CDs was somehow a feasible activity. I don’t go on road trips anymore, I don’t own CDs, I don’t live in the same state, I don’t talk to the same people. But I still listen to Modest Mouse like they’re new.
Nick Cave can make cold creepy crawly chills run down your spine. This songs gives me all the heebie-jeebies. And he’s not even going out of his way to be disturbing. Coming from a man who once made a full album of murder ballads (and called it Murder Ballads) what’s a song about taking children away on trains? What’s a few light Holocaust references? That’s what I take it to be, that or a hymn to religious fanaticism. Line your children up for inspection before they get on the train. Let the cleaners hose you down. You’re all going to the kingdom and you don’t know what you’re in for. There only one thing those images bring to mind. Hardly the stuff of family entertainment, but somehow this song found its way into a Harry Potter movie. Now there’s two fandoms you don’t expect to have much overlap. On the other hand, the Potterverse explicitly got quite dark, and there were things implied between the lines that were frankly infernal. So maybe not a bad match, Nick Cave singing about the Holocaust and a children’s book about attempted genocide.
This reminds me in no small degree of the darker side of 80’s New Wave. Joy Division and Bauhaus and Cabaret Voltaire and all of those depressing people. Since some of those folks are no longer with us, and others just don’t make music like they used to anymore, there’s a niche to be filled. So, yeah, no doubt, a big part of Interpol’s appeal. Which is not to suggest they’re derivative. Evocative and derivative; there’s a fine line there in between, and I think this is the right side of it. Obviously, Paul Banks has the voice and image for it, a nice commanding drone. I dig also the lyrical content – deeply cryptic and just mildly discomfiting. I really quite far from figuring this band out, but I’m working on it.