At first, I didn’t fully get the hype. It was around the time Turn on the Bright Lights was showing up on countless Best of 2002 lists that I first picked up the debut album from the New York four-piece. I was 17; it was during Christmas break of my senior year of high school. Best Buy had advertised the album on sale, maybe $7 or $8. When I first went it was sold out, only adding to the allure. A few days later, I went back and bought it with cash, as I didn’t yet own a debit/credit card.
It was largely a blind purchase for me. This was before the easy access of Youtube videos and albums streaming online. Instead I used to listen to the :30 clips of potential buy-worthy albums on the Best Buy and Circuit City websites. And even that was spotty as my parent’s only had dial-up at the time. I may have caught “PDA” or “Obstacle 1” on the radio once or twice prior to the purchase, but largely I wanted to hear Turn on the Bright Lights simply because it was pegged as one of the greatest albums of the year. I wanted to know what a great present-day rock album sounded like.
It by no means was love at first listen. I remember going through the album once or twice, and admitting the slower, atmospheric “NYC” was the best song on the album. But that would change. Some of our favorite albums grow on us slowly, after a number of listens. It’s these albums that are often most rewarding and stick with us. They are the type of albums that you catch yourself still listening to, regularly, 10 years later.
From the daunting, guitar-laced intro on album opener “Untitled” through the eager longing of “Leif Erikson,” Turn on the Bright Lights is nearly a perfect album beginning to end. I’m still in awe of the extended guitar bridge on “PDA.” The bursting closure on “Roland” is unyielding and outstanding. Frantic “Say Hello To Angels” and lush “Stella Was A Diver And She’s Always Going Down” only became better and better with further listens. With Daniel Kessler on guitar, Sam Fogarino on drums, Carlos D on bass, and Paul Banks fronting, Interpol didn’t set out to make a great album, but instead, the best album. And they got damn near close. Turn on the Bright Lights would go on to be one of the most acclaimed albums of the decade.
Of course, Interpol did not splash on to the scene without at least some criticism, notably, the lyrics of Banks. Sometimes labeled as overly strange or tacky, I actually never really had a problem with them. Despite coming off as a dark and brooding band with intense and gloomy tunes, most of Interpol’s songs are actually about love and the feelings and situations intertwined with it. Yes, it’s usually a yearning or dejected angle towards the subject, but there is real, relatable substance to Banks’ words. “You come here to me/ We’ll collect those lonely parts and set them down/ You come here to me,” Banks sings on the commanding bridge of “Leif Erikson.” It’s poignant and honest; several years after Turn On The Bright Lights release, “Leif Erikson” would become my favorite song on the album.
I’m sure many long-time Interpol loyalists would have preferred a “Carlos D Returns to Interpol” announcement in lieu of the tenth anniversary reissue, but the beautifully packaged and remastered album is a very welcomed consolation to fans. The physical copies of Turn on the Bright Lights are enclosed in a hardbound book package and include unreleased photos and a DVD consisting of album music videos as well as concert footage from the era. There are 17 bonus tracks combined with the original album, including B-sides and demos, some never before released. There are a number of unreleased recordings but “Gavilan (Cubed)” is the unreleased song in the collection. It’s paired with songs from the third demo and the nearly seven-minute track is surprisingly fantastic. It includes the typical haunting and sparse sounds of Interpol, but it’s fresh and fluid. It’s hard to believe any song is worth a 10 year wait, but this is close.
Other bonus highlights include the Peel sessions (including previously unreleased recordings “The New” and “NYC”) along with B-sides “Specialist” and “Interlude,” if you still have yet to hear/own them. There are also selected recordings from three sets of demos, and they largely give a sense of the shifts that occurred before the final versions were ready to record (the third demo version of “Leif Erikson” doesn’t yet have the lyrical bridge I previously mentioned).
There were a lot of bands I listened to in 2002, a number of them I no longer listen to today, nor have in a long time. Interpol is an exception. I still enjoy the band’s music (including a favorable stand on the more recent Our Love to Admire and self-titled Interpol ) as well as Paul Banks’ solo work. Turn on the Bright Lights is different though. While writing papers in college, I regularly would play the entire album through. I reached for it in 2007 after a breakup. After long days at work in 2009, I would listen to it on cold walks home from the bus stop. Even today, with a continual stream of new music presenting itself, Turn on the Bright Lights has yet to fade away. And after 10 years of continued influence and admiration, who’s to say it ever will.