I can't listen to Turn On The Bright Lights and not wish I wasn't hearing it at a conversation-ruining volume in some kind of upscale bar in one of America's major cities. It seems tailor made for young urban(e) types who actually dress up to go out, who pay way too much money for drinks at clubs where all the lighting is mostly neon--or at the very least, every color except white. I picture myself walking down a New York City sidewalk, drunk but with my heart soaring after meeting a girl at a bar, staring at the neon lights reflected in rain puddles underneath my feet, with songs like 'The New' in my head.
Though Interpol have more or less squandered their potential and critical standing by now, Turn On The Bright Lights will stand as one of the finest debut albums from this decade. 1980s post-punk bands like the godhead Joy Division are always brought up when discussing this album, but frankly Interpol mostly compare to them more in the sense of atmosphere than sound. True, they both have unspoken darkness and cold-ness, but Joy Division's music has a frozen, austere detachment to it while Interpol feels merely cold and cerebral, all intellect and wit. To put it another way, Joy Division's music makes you want to lay on the floor in a dark bedroom and shoot heroin; Interpol makes you want to lean on the bar at some expensive nightclub, sipping a martini between cracking high brow jokes with some immaculate blonde.
Anyway, Interpol may personify these certain scenes and places for me, but their debut album is rich with hooks and excellent production that helps them be great no matter when I listen to it, nighttime or clubs be damned. A lot of the "feel" and darkness that I get off this album is due to the 80s style post-punk production, which emphasizes the bass and drums though it smartly doesn't compress and digitize the drums in the way that I despise most 80s albums for. Moreover, the guitar is often used as a textural instrument in ways that help the band shake the "80s throwback" accusation, whether it's the elegant shoegazer-esque lines on 'NYC' or the borderline post-rock vibes I get off songs like 'Leif Erikson.' Unfortunately, the rhythmic guitar chording on songs like 'Say Hello To Angels' temporarily got Interpol pegged in with the then-smoldering "new garage rock" wave of bands like The Strokes...
...but with hindsight, it feels like Turn On The Bright Light has become an even more singular work, kind of like Radiohead's The Bends was shoved in with the Brit Pop movement but lived beyond it. I would even go so far as to say (even though I admit I haven't kept up past their second album) that Interpol are one of those bands who manage to release one great work but are never able to successfully produce something that's as good or even different-but-also-great. Anyway, this is still a fantastic album and worthy of all the praise it's gotten since its release.