By John Dickinson
I always thought Turn On The Bright Lights had a pulse. A sort of life that existed far beyond the tonal baritone of Paul Banks' melancholy pleas or bassist Carlos Dengler's emphatic octave jumps. It existed in the way a person exists. It wasn't just a few tracks thrown together by four big Joy Division fans (as they are so often labeled) -- it was so much more: years of preparation and revision toiled by four New York City kids. And in 2002 those four kids succeeded in creating life. Vital signs are found in the sputtering breaths of "Stella", the anxious rhythmic patterns of "Say Hello To The Angels" and the cohesive musical strategy that binds them in perpetuity. It's remarkable how in the decade where full length records grew foreign to most, where people could download individual songs without having to listen to an entire CD, Interpol was more concerned with birthing a story than $.99 song sales.
Fast forward ten years: people are buying vinyl records again. Artists are putting out their music for free. A resurgence of the DIY mindset has breathed new life into the word "indie". Turn On The Bright Lights remains timeless in its clairvoyance and its ability to stay relevant; Banks' frantic vocals seem just as enduring as they did the first time you heard "Obstacle 1" in a Girl Skateboards video nearly a decade ago. The intangible sorcery of Turn On The Bright Lights turns real with the inclusion of seventeen bonus tracks, which give listeners an inside look into four separate demo sessions spanning three years. No longer will audiences be grasping at thin air with the close of the record; a fact made lucid upon listening to the 10th Anniversary Edition of the album.
The re-issue version of TOTBL retains all of the charm that fans will surely remember: its first words are spoken over "Untitled", as effect-laden guitars howl over Sam Fogarino's coarse drumming. By the time "NYC" comes about, the album learns to walk, exploring a new ephemeral territory. The bitter simplicity and sexual disdain of "Hands Away" marks TOTBL's adolescence, just as "Roland" reveals the record's dark secrets -- that evil which lurks in the heart of man. As the penultimate "The New" solidifies the record's mid-life crisis, the pulsing organ in the final track "Leif Erikson" acknowledges the album's funeral; a reflection on superficiality and a poetic close to the record.
But the album doesn't really die with "Leif Erikson"'s fading keys. Disc 2's opening track "Interlude", originally intended to be a buffer between the first and second halves of the record, is one of the few tracks omitted from the original release; a Cure-esque instrumental which fades in right where "Erikson" left off. The second b-side, "Specialist", is a track which employs vocal tactics outside of Banks' comfort zone; empowered harmonies and a dramatically building soliloquy lead into a pensive outro which stops just as abruptly as a life cut short:
"You're spelling out your love
You shouldn't be alone in there
You should be above ground"
At nearly eight minutes combined, it's easy to see why the songs were omitted from the tracklisting: they simply would have made the album overwhelming for listeners. Regardless, the two tracks are of no less quality than the rest of the record, and remain gems in and of themselves.
Recorded between the years 1998 and 2001, the remaining fifteen tracks are demos which make known the band's incipience at the time. Consciously slipshod are Banks' vocal stylings, as little to no instrument equalization leaves drums sounding bare-bones, bass muddied, guitars subdued. This raw energy and unpolished sound is eerily characteristic of the group's post-punk influences (subconscious as they may be), and provides listeners insight into Interpol's growth as musicians. Unused tracks like "Precipitate" and "A Time To Be So Small", both of which would later be released on Precipitate EP and Antics, respectively, add a similar context to the demo sessions. The final set of demos, the Peel Session demos, contain songs released on Turn On The Bright Lights but produced by legendary English DJ John Peel. These versions vary only slightly from those released on the record; sped up, slowed down, a note added or subtracted. The fragility heard in Banks' voice during the previous demos begins to wither away, as he grows more confident as a singer.
The most insight gained into the growth of Interpol, however, is present in the live DVD footage of the group playing The Troubadour in Los Angeles circa 2002. A timid, young Banks can be seen moaning the lyrics to "Obstacle 1" and "Specialist" among others, as the group plays each song note for note, leaving no element out of their live performance that they included on the record. Unearthly green and purple glows illuminate Interpol as they captivate their newly acquired followers and recreate the songs in a new environment.
Interpol's baby turns ten this year. The 10th Anniversary Edition of the record is a testament to its timelessness, and a documentary-style perspective on the group's writing process. The record has remained a favorite in the hearts of many, attracting new audiences of all ages with each passing day. With this growth, Turn On The Bright Lights will garner only more acclaim and recognition as it continues to age like a fine wine, settling into its favorite throne, reflecting on a job well done.
Check out lyrics and explanations for Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights on Stereo IQ:
Interpol - Hands Away Lyrics
Interpol - Leif Erikson Lyrics
Interpol - The New Lyrics
Interpol - NYC Lyrics
Interpol - Obstacle 1 Lyrics
Interpol - Obstacle 2 Lyrics
Interpol - PDA Lyrics
Interpol - Roland Lyrics
Interpol - Say Hello To The Angels Lyrics
Interpol - Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down Lyrics
Interpol - Untitled Lyrics
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