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10 Years, 100 Songs: #18. “And Now There is This Distance…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 20, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Ever since I started getting back into basketball, there’s only one phrase that comes to mind whenever I think of Interpol: Draft bust. Interpol arrived on the scene in the summer of 2002 with a self-titled EP of three songs, which was greeted with a whole lot of Joy Division comparisons and a great deal more rapturous acclaim. The hype was tremendous, and it seemed mostly deserved, but even debut album Turn on the Bright Lights–which relied heavily on two of the songs from the EP–was maddeningly inconsistent, scattered with moments both beautiful and stupefying. Then like The Strokes, Interpol never really evolved particularly–but unlike the Strokes, they were never reliably good enough at any one thing to coast for the rest of the decade. Interpol ended the Naughty Oughties like Kwame Brown, Darius Miles, or any other of a number of preps-to-pros disappointments: Endless potential, flashes of brilliance, little to no development.

But holy shit, the three songs on that EP. “The Specialist,” “NYC” and “PDA,” the songs that sustained Interpol’s buzz for nearly half a year, were absolute benchmarks in 00s indie, setting the standard for the kind of angular, tense, post-punk-derived rock that permeated the underground before Arcade Fire and the freak-folkers took over for the second half of the decade. Interpol would have other good songs to follow–“Slow Hands,” “Obstacle 1,” “Say Hello to the Angels”–but they never really pulled away from the greatness of these three, and it would be generally diminishing returns from there. Gorgeously textured, inspiredly composed, and lyrically…well, we’ll get to the lyrics later, but they at least didn’t take that much off the table here. And of these, “PDA” was absolutely the best, one of the most immaculate rock songs of the decade and a song that by its very lonesome would justify Interpol’s existence a couple times over.

Mathematically speaking, there’s just no fucking with a rock song where all four core instruments are at the top of their game individually and exquisitely complimentary collectively. As previously mentioned, Interpol was absolutely dogged by comparisons to Joy Division early on (Andy Kellerman’s All-Music Guide review of TOBTL began thusly: “One might go into a review like this one wondering how many words will pass before Joy Division is brought up. In this case, the answer is 16”). Most of these comparisons were due to vocalist Paul Banks’s constipated baritone sounding vaguely like that of Ian Curtis, which was a fair if somewhat lazy relation to make. But the real way they were like Joy Division, in their good songs anyway, were the way they used all four instruments in a potential lead capacity, without anyone coming off sounding like a freelancer (and no one was better at this than Ian, Barney, Hooky and Stephen). The drums set the pace, the bass anchored the song, the guitars gave it lift and the vocals tied it all together. You can’t ask for better musical interplay than that found on “PDA”–unsurprisingly, making it one of the best songs for Rock Band group play.

About those lyrics–well, let’s say, I’ve had my beefs with certain pieces of Banks’s artistry over the years, culminating in a Stylus article about Turn on the Bright Lights that was probably the most popular (and by popular I mean most hater-baiting) piece I ever ran on the site. Banks was pretty far from a poet (although as long as we’re making the comparison, Curtis was always somewhat overrated in that respect himself), and shot himself in the foot on a disturbingly high percentage of his otherwise-good songs, most infamously on the “NYC” line “The subway, she is a porno.” It’d be something of a lie to say that “PDA” is an exception to this, especially since it turns out a line I previously thought to be “I am breaking all around me” (acceptable) is actually “I am raping all around me” (unacceptable). But there are some nice moments too, specifically on the song’s lyrically-climactic second verse, where Banks makes the song’s breakup/estrangement roots obvious: “You will not reach me, I am / Resenting a position that’s past resentment / But now I can’t consider / And now there is this distance.” It’s impressively understated by Banks standards, and makes an enigmatic chorus (“Sleep tight, grim right / We have 200 couches where you can sleep tonight”) seem oddly moving at times.

But let’s be honest–this song is 100% about the guitar coda. About three minutes into “PDA,” the vocals and drums drop out completely, while one guitar line continues on. Eventually a second guitar joins in harmony, and then the bass comes back in underneath. The three guitars–two lead, one bass–continue on for about forty-five seconds on their lonesome, twisting and twining around each other in a way as stunning as any other guitar breakdown in rock history. Interpol deployed their guitar attack like few alternative bands had since the days of bands like U2 and Simple Minds back in the early 80s, for maximal reach and impact, meant to reverberate and pierce and just sound huge.The three guitar lines take up so much sheer sonic space that you barely even notice that the drums aren’t in the song–that is, until the bass goes back into its low chug for just a second, and all of a sudden the drums are back for an absolutely sublime full-band outro. Indie rock in the 00s got no better–zero better–than those 45 seconds of “PDA.” It’s beautiful. (And, of course, the radio/video edit chops off the whole thing, which would be kind of like USA nixing the final five minutes in a re-broadcast of The Usual Suspects for time considerations. I linked to the full version above, since the video kinda sucked anyway).

In their own way, Interpol would prove to be nearly as influential to the scope of 00s alt-rock as The Strokes, making the success of a number of dour, anthemic guitar-led rock outfits (Bloc Party, The Editors, and most hysterically and shamelessly, She Wants Revenge) possible over the course of the decade. Meanwhile, the band themselves became minor New York celebrities, famous for their club cameos and fashion sense (Honestly, how long has it been since you last thought about bassist Carlos D and that fucking belt holster?), and got that ultimate indie rock seal-of-approval, being featured in an episode of The O.C. (And who could forget the strains of “The Specialist” playing in the background as a vengeance-swearing Eddie spied on Ryan and Teresa in their hotel room?) But as people came to realize that the band’s best days were instantly behind them, their popularity visibly waned, to the point wear I wonder if they released an album today, if the kids who currently read Pitchfork would even be aware of what a cause celebre the dudes were back in the day. (They probably would–the kids know everything).

But unlike other artists I’ve talked about recently, where the disappointment over the way their career turned out tainted the way I came to view their early material–if anything, I think Interpol makes more sense as a draft bust, or a couple-hit-wonder. In fact, I hope their rep only continues to diminish over the years, to the point a crate-digging (well, digital-crate-digging) listener in 2025 picks up Turn on the Bright Lights on a thoughtless whim, the way I would buy a Chameleons or Section 25 album, and (assuming he can get through the “Her stories are boring and stuff” line in “Obstacle 1”) gets absolutely blown away by the power of “PDA.” Or maybe they’ll be too busy retro-fetishizing Breaking Benjamin, who knows.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #18. “And Now There is This Distance…””

  1. Garret said

    Interpol, 100 songs, yeah, yeah… Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opened today.

  2. ZD said

    I take issue: Stromile Swift wasn’t a prep-to-pros disappointment. He had two years at LSU.

    The track linked to above — is that the album version or the EP version or some other version? The track I’ve got starts out with some feedback before a strangely foreboding drum part kicks in. Those 20-25 seconds, incidentally, are my favorite of the whole song — more for the mood it sets than for the actual aural aesthetics.

    As it were, Say Hello to the Angels is one of my all-time favorite songs. That song is all over the place and just keeps it coming. Whatever that means.

  3. intensities said

    Whoops, mixed him up with Darius Miles again. Serves me right, edited thusly.

    The version posted above is the only version of “PDA” I can ever remember hearing, on the EP, the album or anywhere (well, besides the radio edit mentioned in the article that nixes the outro). Curious about the version you mention if you have a link or anything.

  4. INotI said

    The Chameleons were awesome as hell, though, and Interpol sounds a lot more like them than like Joy Division.

  5. Oh my god enjoyed reading this blogpost. I added your feed to my blogreader.

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