By Nora Onanian, Web Services Coordinator
Album: The Other Side of Make-Believe
Favorite Songs: “Toni,” “Big Shot City,” “Fables,” and “Something Changed”
The singles leading up to the full release of Interpol’s The Other Side of Make-Believe on July 15th, 2022 offered fragments of an incomplete picture. I’d like to imagine them as the shattered shards of the mirror that stands symbolically on the album’s cover, propped up by the point of a scalpel.
Lead single “Toni” came first in early April, breathing out a rather uncharacteristic sense of hope from the New York post-punk band. It offered the first glimpse into Interpol’s seventh studio album— one seemingly very different from their last full-length record, 2018’s Marauder.
Where Marauder’s collection of songs built a concept album and fictionalized character, “Toni” turned insightfully inwards. And where Marauder presented somewhat of a punk revival, this new effort began with a bright piano-led sound.
Released not long ago, the third of the album’s four singles, “Fables,” saw Interpol sing of a want for “something stable” — a striking admission after several decades of their version of the “rockstar lifestyle” (which is rarely synonymous with being smooth), made more tumultuous by a changing lineup of members.
Now, The Other Side of Make-Believe stands in its entirety. And the threads started by the tracks that came before can be traced throughout the work.
What stands tells the story of a band that has learned from its past; a band that is ready to stare directly past the fallacies that might have once tempted the younger version of themselves.
THE ASCENT TOWARDS GREATNESS
The opening four tracks to the record represent a particular sense of ambition. It's this burning desire for greatness that likely clouded the spirit of Interpol in their early days.
“The aim now is perfection always,” Paul Banks sings on lead vocals in the album’s opening track “Toni.” Led by piano, the beautiful composition of the song dials down Interpol’s typical angst-filled sound while presenting a building anxiety sonically.
“Fables” follows, bringing in a characteristically energetic presence from the backing instruments, a peculiar sounding vocal presence from Banks, and the lyric “I do it all for the glow.” The lyric, combined with these other elements, evokes an image of the band basking in the bright lights of the stage, hungry for fame.
The third and fourth tracks, “Into the Night” and “Mr. Credit,” continue on this theme. A sense of over-ambition is particularly embodied in the latter’s lines, “I wanna be there when you touch fire,” and “I’ll be the hand to lift you up, higher.”
A DIFFERENT SENSE OF GROWTH
The next section of the record — marked rather overtly by the fifth track’s title being “Something’s Changed” — sees Interpol musing with newfound wisdom.
Track seven, “Passenger,” serves as a particular focal point. The title of the album is pulled directly from the song, as the opening line starts, “I’m on the other side of make-believe.”
The lyrics go on to pull in references to several of the previous songs and themes. “Free from the fables, we can grow,” it goes. “I wait for the world to give it all back… I ain’t tried to chase it.”
For what seems to be the thesis of the album, “Passengers” doesn’t hold a particularly compelling sound. Most of the instrumentation is rather subdued.
The often bursting drums from Sam Fogarino are much more mellow than usual. And although the guitar has a fairly strong presence, its consistency throughout the song means it doesn’t draw away attention.
Ultimately, this leaves an added emphasis on the power “Passenger” holds lyrically. It also makes the point that growth doesn’t have to be represented by something grand and elevated in intensity. Growth can also be represented by mellowing out, a suggestion only complimented by the song’s words.
DREAMS & ENVISIONED PARADISES GONE BY
As the album continues on, the next few tracks reference forms of paradise and take on a more melancholic tinge.
“Greenwich,” the first of the few, sees strong use of sonic distortion. “Kept along, I got nothing but my own dreams, just these old things,” the opening words go.
“Gran Hotel,” with its more classically rock instrumentation, sings of the Caribbean island of Cozumel, with ancient gardens and glowing faces. “I would gladly give my life to be there,” Banks sings. Later, repetition of “I see you in everything” suggests that the island oasis is a metaphor for an estranged personal relationship that once brought happiness.
The second-to-last track, “Big Shot City,” evokes the album cover’s scalpel as it repeats “stop the operation.” And it also gives a final nod to a form of paradise, which the speaker realizes is no longer attainable. “Did we know that was halcyon?,” Banks asks four times at the song’s end, referring to a once idyllic period of time gone by.
EVOCATIVE IMAGERY & THE ENCOURAGED ABILITY TO CUT THROUGH ILLUSIONS
A single guitar opens the last track on the record, “Go Easy (Palermo),” its sharp-toned melody ringing out for a near 20-second intro. Banks’ vocals come in high and airy. “Go easy” he sings, the ending syllable extra elongated.
It’s a song that, perhaps most eloquently as ever, demonstrates the way Interpol lyrics often employ brief imagery to pack a punch.
Bridging the chorus comes a simple two-liner: “At the yard sale, the bride’s veil is there.”
It isn’t stated in overly fancy language or elaborated on. Instead, the listener is left to fill in the blanks.
But just as my mind begins to picture the white tulle faded to cream, wrinkled with age, sitting next to cookware and a box of hangers, I again hear the plight— “Go easy.”
Thinking beyond just this one lyric, I return again to the imagery of the album cover itself and the title Interpol chose to represent this collection of 11 songs.
I think of the way the mirror, propped up by a perfectly balanced scalpel, is angled so that the reflection of the sharp object is in sight.
The reflection makes it so that the scalpel is pointed towards us. It’s an alarming position. However, as a mere reflection, this isn’t the version of the scalpel that can do harm.
It is us who need to make that distinction between fallacy and reality to avoid danger.
And thus there lies this tool, a symbolic representation of the newfound power Interpol yields; an ability to cut through over-ambition and the illusion of fame, of distractions like material wealth and substances; a chance to strip back to what really matters and see what stands on the other side of make-believe.