Happy 15th Anniversary to Interpol’s second studio album Antics, originally released September 27, 2004.
Uncontainable, yet calculated, Interpol’s second album Antics delivered on the impossible. Just two years after captivating the indie masses with their phenomenal debut Turn on the Bright Lights (2002), the New York City-based quartet promptly responded to the riotous acclaim with another vivid stunner.
Still steeped in the liminal hours amidst the metropolis that never sleeps, Interpol’s sophomore effort delved deeper into their moody city-drenched aesthetic. It sounded bigger and bolder without straying too far from the covetous atmosphere that caused all the clamor. Antics was truly everything the music world wanted and needed it to be. And my 26-year-old brain both adored and bemoaned the band for it.
For the record (please pardon the pun), I loved Antics from the moment it greeted my eager ears. Its prowling, pouncing pursuit of romantic abandon was like a permanent press of the gas pedal into the subterranean glamour set forth in their delectable arrival—a triumph that aptly captured the pensive defiance of the human spirit in a post-9/11 New York City.
But despite only having the one studio album, Interpol had already made a name for themselves. They’d even caught the attention of my perennial favorite, The Cure’s Robert Smith, who welcomed them into his 2004 festival tour, Curiosa. Smith commented to Rolling Stone, “Lyrically, their songs are very heartfelt, and that makes for a good contrast with the starkness and icy veneer of their sound. They look really good onstage, yet they don’t try too hard. It seems almost contrived at first, but they have such a fantastically defined sense of self.”
Oh, but dear Robert, how I beg to disagree. Yes, impeccably dressed in darksome suits, ties and tailormade finery, Interpol looked quite dapper on stage—gleaming accoutrements to their stellar sound. But, their “fantastically defined sense of self” tread on artifice and at points came off as contrived.
By the time Antics arrived in September 2004, I’d seen Interpol close to 10 times (I’m nothing if not obsessive about the music I love). About a month before the album’s release, I’d watched them play two consecutive nights in San Francisco and Sacramento, as part of the Curiosa tour. I’d sufficiently enjoyed night one, but was instantly dismayed night two when I realized they were lighting their cigarettes at the exact same point in the song as the evening before. Part of me sort of gets it and wants to forgive them because who doesn’t love THAT mellifluous starburst moment, where everything just coalesces into crescendoing climax? But, the other part of me wants to scream at the robotic pretense of it all. And that’s the temperate voice of a more mature, tolerant me talking—lord knows, my cynical 26-year-old self was definitely not cutting them any slack at all that August night.
Annoyed as I was with this exchange of mesmerizing mystery for manufactured mechanics, I couldn’t help myself in time. Come autumn, I fully gave in to the brand of Interpol. Had I any say in the matter (for I certainly flaunted the fanaticism), I would’ve happily cobbled together the limited vinyl box set, which, if memory serves, was only available one 7-inch per night at Interpol Space, an exclusive art pop-up in Berlin, London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris. Despite my vehement interest and the fact I lived in LA, I was unable to procure said collector’s item, but I scoured eBay for months. This is all to say that rather than resist Interpol’s trichromatic charms, their black-white-red artistry only fueled my fascination. Because for all their stylistic intrigue, the realm of Interpol was also rife with introspection.
After nearly two years on tour, scintillating ever-larger venues across North America and Europe (and even a couple festivals in Japan) with Turn on the Bright Lights, Interpol returned home to begin work on their next album. In the winter of 2003, lyricist and singer Paul Banks rented a Brooklyn flat from a college friend to focus on penning the words for Antics. Tucked away from both the apartment he shared with his girlfriend and other roommate and the distractions (and chill) of the city, Banks found the appropriate headspace he needed to foster his craft.
In an October 2004 Paste interview, Banks recalled, “I had to get a place where it was very private, and this was. So I kinda switched over into a mindset and came up with a method and concepts that I wanted to write about. I had an empty notebook with me at all times, and a little dictaphone for any melodies that I came up with at any given moment. That was my method for getting it all out, and it really worked. I got three albums’ worth of lyrics from that period, and everything lyrically is very pure. There was so much shit that came straight up from the unconscious, from wherever dreams come from, and I just committed it to paper immediately.”
Favoring the darkest hours of the night to ink his enigmatic musings, Banks’ lyrics are famously and tantalizingly opaque. And yet, each song—and certainly the album as a whole—offers a bewitching sense of escapism. There’s a constant hunger, an ongoing tug-of-war sometimes within the self, sometimes with significant others. But, there’s also a strange juxtaposition of images—perhaps effusions of the hypnagogic mind—that establish a more profound, metaphysical narrative.
The song “Public Pervert,” with its chorus (“So swoon, baby, starry nights / May our bodies remain / As deep we move, I'll feed you light, baby / May our bodies remain / Oh yeah, in history, I'll treat you right, baby / I'm honest that way, hey”) is a perfect example of this richness. The lyrics themselves evoke the sublime—a transcendence achieved through both cosmic and personal intimacy. And yet, the title suggests anything but, carrying a crassness that flies in the face of the beautiful words. Taken together, it conveys a certain sadness, as though a voyeuristic someone is on the outside of all this, unable to experience this otherworldly feeling.
Regardless of Banks’ intention, “Public Pervert” provides a slow denouement capping the album’s two most buoyant tracks, “Slow Hands” and “Not Even Jail.” For me, these three songs alone, in this sequence, illuminate why Antics is so successful. Both “Slow Hands,” the first single from the album, and “Not Even Jail” are ridiculously catchy, but they also unspool fantastically, teasing mind and limbs alike. After the tearing asunder that comes with “Not Even Jail,” the dreamy “Public Pervert” (oh, that title…) eases the comedown.
And, it’s this unrelenting attention to detail—in the substance and packaging of the music—that sets this NYC outfit apart. From album opener “Next Exit” to closer “A Time to Be So Small,” Antics sounds and looks like the younger sibling of Turn on the Bright Lights. Smartly planned, terrifically executed and ultimately more boisterous (if less daring), Interpol’s second album happily hushed those like myself who waited with bated breath.