A late- or mid-career self-titled album is often the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of waving the white flag — out of gas, out of ideas. (See also: The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, Hootie & the Blowfish). That’s exactly our last impression of the creatively fractured group behind 2010′s plodding, overwrought Interpol. What an anagram of a self-titled album means is anybody’s guess, but four years later the new El Pintor not only stanches the bleeding but signals a genuine revival. That’s a confusing notion for those who’d written off Interpol and expected their breakup after the departure of bassist Carlos Dengler, diversions such as singer Paul Banks’s solo foray as Julian Plenti and, once again, Interpol.
El Pintor is immediately gratifying, off to a sprint with three straight anthems in which guitarist Daniel Kessler is, for the most part, less stabby — his signature short, sharp post-punk guitar hooks are more elastic and fluid here. It’s not an obvious attempt at crowd-pleasing, although Banks does sing “Be kind to the base/ Someday you might need them” on “Anywhere.” Not much later, Banks goes to his falsetto for “My Blue Supreme,” where oversaturated vocal harmonies bleed all over a slowly exploding chorus; it’s a rare detour from the band’s well-established rules of style and the most opulent thing Interpol has recorded to date. Not much else plays outside the strictures, and the heard-from-the-backseat vocal mix grates at times.
El Pintor may lack the intimacy and greatness of Turn on the Bright Lights, but it returns to that debut’s guitar-rock filigree: the simple pleasures of tension-building 16th-note strums, the laser-like burst from a delay pedal. For objectionable reasons involving the Strokes, the National, men’s clothing and the years 2001-02, we are guilty of overcontextualizing Interpol, measuring and re-measuring. For the first time in a decade, however, a new Interpol album has the ability to spark imaginations about the bright lights ahead instead of the ones behind.