With the 20th anniversary of Turn On the Bright Lights approaching this August, it’s inevitable that the ghosts of Interpol’s era-defining debut will linger over their latest offering, The Other Side of Make-Believe. When a band makes an enduring first impression as Interpol did with Turn On, it’s hard not to hold them to a higher standard. Any slight misstep (or, El Pintor) is exaggerated even though what could be perceived as their weaker moments are generally superior to what their contemporaries are releasing concurrently (with the exception of El Pintor).
Written across 2020 with each member located in different territories and timezones, the trio had to reconfigure their usual songwriting process for album number seven. Frontman Paul Banks spent nine months in Edinburgh, Daniel Kessler was in Spain and drummer Sam Fogarino remained in the States, specifically Athens, Georgia. Working independently during the initial stages of The Other Side evidently reinvigorated Interpol’s approach – and subsequent sound – when they reconvened in the studio with legendary producer Flood.
Generally, The Other Side’s instrumentation follows a relatively straight-forward path. The rudimentary foundation to songs like ‘Toni’ or ‘Something Changed’ make room for specific motifs to shine brighter in the trio’s typically monochrome palette. Take the aforementioned ‘Toni’ whose frosty piano centrepiece draws you further into the arrangement, particularly when the melody skips jovially for a split second. This becomes a tonal point within the song that absorbs the listener’s attention. Elsewhere, the interplay between Fogarino’s off-kilter drum patterns and Kessler’s idiosyncratic spiked guitar riffs culminate in some of the LP’s highlights, particularly ‘Into the Night’. It’s the closing suite of songs where the record drifts, losing its hold on the listener.
One of The Other Side’s most striking differences compared to Interpol’s discography resides in the vocal cadences across Banks’ singular performances and in the harmonies, too. There’s a tenderness and softness in Banks’ voice we haven’t experienced before that works nicely on ‘Passenger’ and ‘Fables’ but can also minimise his typically enigmatic presence in Interpol’s sinisterly intoned songs.
Ultimately, The Other Side does reasonably well to keep audiences engaged. However, it’s an album with plenty of great moments rather than a great album from start to finish.
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