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On the surface, the story of Interpol‘s 2002 full-length debut Turn on the Bright Lights is almost annoyingly of its place and time: four guys meet in New York, start a band, make tightly-wound indie rock jams that sound great at your favorite mid-gentrification Williamsburg bar, sign to a renowned independent label, and the rest is history. But the early-aughts New York of Turn on the Bright Lights is not the young, vibrant, and impossibly cool place of cultural myth. It is a darker and more complicated place, fraught with disappointment and disconnection. It is a crushingly real place, rendered in such vivid emotional detail that it rings true even to those who have never set foot in the city. This stellar 10th Anniversary reissue documents the process by which a handful of pretty-good songs became a truly great album, making it painfully and unequivocally clear that Turn on the Bright Lights is the sum of its players, not its influences.
Three batches of demo recordings are far and away the most interesting bonus materials on this extensive reissue, as they show just how close the album came to not working. The first three-song demo, recorded in 1998 and featuring album cuts “PDA” and “Roland”, comes off as an unremarkable practice tape by a band with lots of good ideas but insufficient energy and chemistry to pull them all together. The second three-song demo, recorded at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room in 1999, is more worked over with decidedly mixed results; there are some jarringly tacky too-loud keyboards here, and a sing-spoken interlude that can’t help but bring to mind Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”. Somewhat ironically, it is only the third and final four-song demo, recorded at the band’s practice space, where Interpol stops sounding like four guys in a practice space tentatively running through busy rock songs.
This progression of demo recordings documents not only the evolution of the band’s playing, but also their increasing attention to texture and ambiance. As the group grew more confident, the gritty sonics of their demos became less incidental to the songs they were making, and more a part of the songs themselves. Producer Peter Katis did an amazing job of preserving and amplifying this rawness, and the band themselves crucially revisited many elements of their demos to better suit their evolving capabilities. The slight changes that Fogarino made to the kick pattern at the beginning of “PDA” completely make the song’s signature introduction, taking it from “oh, there’s a drumbeat” to “OH, there’s THAT drumbeat.” Banks gave his lyrics a thorough tune-up before the recording the album, excising his most rhythmically formless lines and shoring up the critical interplay between his voice and the rest of the band. —Pitchfork