By Cory Weaver-
On the heels of Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights 20th anniversary comes the band’s seventh studio album, On the Other Side of Make-Believe. Ebbing the flow of any fanfare that will arise from celebrating TOTBL, one of the best indie/alt-rock album releases of the 2000s, Make-Believe has ushered in a new era of Interpol music.
The album has a jarring, arid feel to it—encapsulating the thousands of miles that separated the trio in the early stages of writing Make-Believe during the pandemic lockdown before reuniting in the Catskills (coincidentally, that’s where Paul Banks’ side project—the indie supergroup Muzz—spent a lot time piecing together their self-titled pandemic release). Ultimately, the band spent two months together completing Make-Believe in London with producer, Flood (a.k.a. Mark Ellis) and long-time collaborator, Alan Moulder, who previously mixed 2010’s Interpol and 2014’s El Pintor.
Writing an album during a pandemic, Banks expounds on the drive behind Make-Believe from a press release, “The nobility of the human spirit is to rebound,” he says. “Yeah, I could focus on how fucked everything is, but I feel now is the time when being hopeful is necessary, and a still-believable emotion within what makes Interpol Interpol.”
I'd like to see them win / It's my kind of aspiration like it's flowing in the right direction
In July, Interpol teased Make-Believe and released “Toni” as the first single off the new album. “I like the inspiration like it's going in the right direction / And that's to me” is sung throughout, a bit of a secondary haunting hook that projects a solemn, yet anxious, loneliness—a prepositioned theme. Over Kessler’s atmospheric piano with random triplet trinkets, followed by tone-establishing bass, enters a pensive Banks, “Flame down Pacific highway / Still in shape, my methods refined / Long gone superstition's folly” on the lead track.
They quickly followed “Toni” with a second single, “Something Changed.” What could have been the second track on the album sits in the fifth slot, picking up where “Toni” left off. Another Kessler-on-keys intro with a wistful echo of “I waded through shame for this,” which has you grasping for the meaning—typical Banks open-ended ambiguity of “here it is, take it how you will.” The La Voix Humane approach of someone talking to another on the phone where more breathing is done than talking by the receiver of the message, “I don't like these open endings / Are you there? / Well I forgive you but there's no pretendings / Are you there?”
On the superlative “Fables,” Banks’ pitch continues to live in a higher octave with smatterings of falsetto:
I do it all for the glow I stand unbearably close How could you possibly know? I ain't taking the call
I have forsaken you all I was mistakenly chose Now I'm just taking my own You can't make me
There’s light, lyrically on these opening tracks, but there are battles that Banks is still fighting, and as a creative, that’s understandable. There’s a bit of this openness sporadically sprinkled throughout Marauder and dealt heavily on his solo releases, Julien Plenti Is… Skyscaper and Banks.
“Step around, don't stand there waving / On abandoned string” commands Banks over a gritty bass and prototypical Kessler grinding riffs on “Into the Night.” “We're in hеre now / No sense parading / As thе anvil swings / We used to
say the future was paved with penalties.”
“I wanna be there when you touch fire / I'll be the hand that you can clutch” is the closest that Banks gets to being aggressive on “Mr. Credit,” matching Kessler’s powerplay chromatic melody. What serves as a nice segue into “Renegade Hearts,” Kessler’s random anthemic howling is a welcome additive to offset Banks’ drop in vocal octave.
The third single off the album, “Gran Hotel,” is a song that elicits a longing for Mexico, a country that incidentally boasts Interpol’s largest fanbase. “Passenger” (“For something they stole, times I was laughed at / I'd fall into a hole, fade into a flashback”) and “Greenwich” (“It's alright to be, not to behave,” a personal reconciliation) have a subtly darker feel and contrasts the suggestive optimism of the album.
“Big Shot City” and “Go Easy (Palermo)” round out what is Interpol’s most delicate album to date, as evidenced in the lyrics “Stop the operation / Help me off the table, we need to leave” and “Go easy / Don't matter what you bring,” respectively.
Make-Believe is a veering off of the path of Interpol into something else, and with that veering-off, this album becomes a deep dive. Spend some time with it. Unlike past Interpol albums when you’ve been eager to blast it—one hand on the volume and the other prepared to pull the fire alarm—Make-Believe is the most vulnerable we’ve ever heard Paul vocally and the band musically. Don’t fret, there are still flickers of melancholy that make your heart strings cringe ever so slightly, but the anthemic bangers are wiped from this release.
Go easy with this one, it’s deserving.