Spins

Interpol, Crowded House, Joan Armatrading

Our Love to Admire

Interpol

(Capitol)

If you're worried about Interpol's leap to the major leagues after two discs on an indie, forget it. Interpol via Capitol sounds exactly like Interpol via Matador. Which, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Carlos D., Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks and Samuel Fogarino seemingly sprang from nowhere back in 2002, with a wildly heralded indie debut — Turn on the Bright Lights — that channeled the rainy-day gloom and menace of classic British post-punk. Some pegged the quartet as mere revivalists, but it hardly mattered; Bright Lights was such a winner that it made quibbling about authenticity moot.

Antics, the 2004 follow-up, came amid absurdly high expectations, but it fared well despite barely broadening Interpol's range of influences. The album convinced me that the band was far from a one-and-done phenomenon, although the recycling of the same elements made me worry that Interpol might one day be stricken with a failure of either nerve or imagination.

Now, with the major-label release of Interpol's third disc, Our Love to Admire, that moment has come. From its opening bars to its conclusion, Our Love follows the established Interpol album playbook to a T: 10-11 songs; no track shorter than three minutes nor much longer than six; every second buffed to a high gloss. There are no acoustic guitars, no non-rock influences, nothing jarring in the slightest.

While the band takes no musical chances, what really disappoints is how thematically stunted Our Love is. Every track here is about bored disillusion and tense dread, or dissolute boredom and dreadful tension. With a title like "No I in Threesome," you'd think the song would be playful, sexy, maybe even funny. Instead, vocalist Banks intones corny come-ons like "Baby, it's time we give something new a try/ Alone, we may fight/ So let us just be free" with a self-seriousness that borders on the ridiculous.

It's a shame, too, because Interpol is a wildly talented band. Guitarist Kessler seems to have an endless store of tight riffs, while bassist Carlos D. and drummer Fogarino lay down some propulsive, quasi-funky rhythms. But until these guys are able to muster up some anger, some vulnerability or — please, God — some humor, their music will stagnate, their impeccable melodies as glittery and cheap as a shiny polyester suit, their lyrics as cold as a suit of armor. 1.5 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

Time on Earth

Crowded House

(ATO)

The unexpected re-formation of Crowded House, a band that laudably carried the post-Beatles torch in the latter half of the '80s, had been received enthusiastically among old fans — me included. Sorry to say that Time on Earth, Crowded House's first album in 14 years, is a disappointment. There's nothing obviously wrong with the disc; it's just lacking a certain verve and exuberance that marked the band's first run. Not a single song among the mostly slow- to medium-tempo fare embeds itself in the gray matter like any number of the group's early tunes. The one that comes closest, "She Called Up" (a bit reminiscent of "Something So Strong") emerges as essentially toothless. Time on Earth evokes an air of competence more than inspiration. 2 stars —Eric Snider

Into the Blues

Joan Armatrading

(429)

Joan Armatrading is back with a red Strat and her first studio album in nearly four years. On Into the Blues, the veteran British/Caribbean singer exchanges pop stylings ("Drop the Pilot") and a folk-mistress croon ("Love and Affection") for a rawer and blacker sound, albeit with enough synthesizer to annoy blues purists. Armatrading is in fine voice between her wails and growls, channeling Aretha in "DNA" and invoking Muddy Waters in the title track: "Are you a mannish boy/ Just like the mighty Mud?" All songs here are original, and Armatrading plays all instruments except for mandolin and percussion. Her guitar work throughout is slick and punchy — think "Thrill is Gone"-era B.B. King. These aren't 12-bar tunes, for the most part, and some of the tracks are just too damn smooth — but in all, it's a heartfelt effort. 3 stars —Ted Scheinman

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