A testament to the vitality of rock in the contemporary world, Interpol’s El Pintor features great guitar work that drives several of the tracks forward. The instrument sometimes functions as a light that cuts through the darkness concocted by the band’s bassist: see, for example, ‘All the Rage Back Home’. The excellent ‘Anywhere’ is a prime example not only of rather complex riffing but also of that great New York alternative rock sound. The excellent style, continued in songs like the third track on this album, is a sort of revival of the angular type of punk music that emerged, thanks to bands like Television, from the Big Apple in the 1970s and again in the middle of the 21st century’s first decade. As well as such revivalism, which is arguably a return to ‘classic Interpol’ , also present on this album is a more modern-sounding kind of rock found in songs like ‘Same Town, New Story’, the gloss of which is joined by the aforementioned jagged-edged take on the genre.
As brilliant as some of the guitar’s deeds are, it should be recognized that the guitars arguably dominate the album too much. Yes, the axe is the leader of the pack of rock instruments but on this album it sometimes seems to push away or, in a way, drown the bass and drums if not other elements too. This is not to say that the problem is necessarily related to the mixing of each track, although it may be at least partly that. Rather, the main issues are, it seems, the relative lack of flair shown by the other players on the album, as well as problems with vocals and song length. It may seem a good thing if one suggested that here lead vocalist Paul Banks generally sounds more like a ‘proper’ singer than he did on earlier songs where his vocals sounded like shouting or an elongated or more emotional version of talking. In some cases that is a good thing but Banks’ voice often sounds similar, or in some cases, worse, in comparison to many earlier tracks. For example, on ‘My Desire’ he sounds whiny. Another flaw is that the collection as a whole and especially those songs that run for almost five minutes, are excessively long given the amount of excitement-provoking material on display, which is not large enough to justify a running time of such length, even though it only comes to about 39 minutes.
However, as they say in hip hop, “don’t get it twisted”. What has been said in the previous paragraph does not mean that the other Interpol instrumentalists on this album do not have their shining moments. The bass line which opens ‘Everything is Wrong’ and the break-beat beginning ‘Ancient Ways’ are certainly highlights, as is the somewhat fragile and rather emotional vocal performance on ‘All the Rage Back Home’. The grim lyrics of ‘Breaker 1’ are reminiscent of the lyrical blessings within the group’s albums that listeners have enjoyed over the years.
In conclusion, while some songs, or at least some elements of those compositions, are clearly flawed, Interpol are certainly not dead, and neither is the genre which they represent. While former bassist Carlos D’s absence is noticeable, the band still have plenty of ammunition left in their stylistic arsenal, even though nothing here matches the melancholy beauty of their song ‘NYC’. One thing that is apparent in El Pintor is that the group have, in some ways for better and in some ways for worse, changed from their fine early albums Turn On the Bright Lights and Antics and yet have retained some of what was exhibited in those albums.