Twelve years on, Interpol’s debut might have been the best and worst thing ever to happen to the band. “Turn on the Bright Lights” became a defining album for both the group and its era, a landmark document of New York’s rock renaissance in the early 2000s. It was so lauded, in fact, that it became a hard act to follow, with each successive release often deemed a pale imitation of the masterwork.
“El Pintor” is different: the first Interpol album since its debut that doesn’t sound self-conscious or eclipsed by old glories. A return to form, it brims with fresh ideas, in everything from the looser production to the chordal detours that suggest the trio is ready to tweak its formula. It’s also the first album that singer-frontman Paul Banks (above), guitarist Daniel Kessler, and drummer Sam Fogarino have made without founding bassist Carlos Dengler. (Banks took over on bass for “El Pintor,” which is an anagram of the band’s name.)
As an opening salvo, “All the Rage Back Home” is Interpol in miniature — capable of sounding delicate, as it initially does, but more at home with the song’s jagged, brittle textures. Built on the one-two punch of drums and guitar, “Breaker 1” harkens to early work, while “My Blue Supreme” cuts the band some slack to explore a serpentine melody that’s surprisingly funky — not a word associated with Interpol.
“Same Town, New Story” is the real revelation: It pulses with a backbeat over Kessler’s curlicue guitar licks, as Banks intones: “Feels like the whole world/ Is up on my shoulders.” Five studio albums in, it’s nice to see Interpol get its gloomy groove back. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Same Town, New Story”
Interpol performs at House of Blues on Nov. 21.