If El Pintor settles one argument about Interpol, it is how little of an effect the departure of bassist Carlos D has had on the band, or at least on the product the band delivers. As their first LP without the founding member, the band’s fifth full-length sounds more-or-less like the previous ones, which is both a blessing and curse for a band that has so much rooted in its “sound” and relies heavily on ambiance and atmosphere rather than songwriting and musicianship.
That said, El Pintor doesn’t sound like a band settling or overly comfortable. The aggressive, tense drum fills of “My Desire,” the piercing repeated guitar lead on standout single “All the Rage Back Home,” the hammer-on notes that open “Same Town, New Story”...these are all seemingly minute details that signify not only effort, but a desire to sculpt the songs into more than the sum of parts. It is no accident that these flourishes easily fade into the mix; over the years Interpol have learned to lull their instruments together to create swells of songs, not the angular, sharp, focused work of their first two records.
El Pintor impresses by showing Interpol as a band able to make an album work despite nothing particularly new to offer (and maybe even continued signs of decay of their once signature play on post-punk), but the other side of the story is that the project might be self-referential in the quite good “My Blue Supreme”: “Someone that I’m dying to be, cruising in my blue supreme.” As best as can be told via Google, “blue supreme” isn’t an actual thing, but likely inside slang or just words Paul Banks thought sounded nice together. “Dying” and “cruising” seem to be more operative words in the song.
With Banks now writing and recording the bass parts, “Everything Is Wrong” tries to showcase this new aspect of the band, but the bass intro proves to be a red herring, as it is quickly drowned in the mix, only to reappear as a focal point between verses. The song feels like a child sticking a good report card on the refrigerator door, showing off his marks for the extended family but missing the point that his knowledge gained from the schooling is what he should be proud of. Never on the album does the bass stand out because it needs to be there. In fact, the entire back side of the album is made up of songs that don’t need to be there.
That said, it is easy to be hard on Interpol because they have always been a one-trick-pony and have never really tried to be more. El Pintor is ultimately more pleasurable than it is painful, enough of a distraction to recall how important Interpol seemed at one time and how they can still pull off the illusion of importance after all these years. On “Ancient Ways,” there is a dramatic pause where the band bursts back in exactly where it left off. The pause ultimately feels like a waste, and the band has always understood how to pull off the dramatic pause. Maybe one of these days they’ll understand how to follow the pause.