Interpol – A Time To Be So Small

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It seems as though every other Interpol song has rhapsodized the ocean. A Time To Be So Small, along with Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down (which I have also discussed), are no exception or surprise, considering that lead singer Paul Banks has mentioned on multiple occasions that he visits the beach to obtain ideas. The marine theme present in both of these is something that can be picked up on immediately, especially on this excellent closing track to one of the best records of 2004, Antics – right? This is partially a humor piece.

It’s a family relationship song. The observers, who are narrating, are aquatic creatures under a boat watching this unfolding drama between father and son. Possibly the first song ever to be written from the point of view of a crustacean. – Paul Banks

One may argue the man has got a unique imagination. I like that he chose to say that it was “possibly the first song ever to be written from the point of view of a crustacean”. Thank you, Paul. I have a suspicion that it just may be.

Our lobster fairy tale begins with Banks singing in his trademark nervous goat-like voice which always manages to evoke macabre images. The first line, “saw you from the urchin side from under the boat” sets the scene, taking the listener to a world underwater. It isn’t heard before the catchy, 40 second long introduction, however. The soft and seemingly isolated thump of a drum that kicks this song off is almost like the initial plunge, the breaking of surface tension of water. Lead guitarist Daniel Kessler’s fails to disappoint with an impeccable hook, a force of nature found in every track off of Antics. Banks’ rhythmic and organized strumming in combination with this feels like the swaying of a ship set sail. “saw you making knots, saw you get the rope” – Sometimes, I do wonder what Banks meant when he said “drama between father and son”. Half of me assumes that the ropes and knots are part of the boat maintenance, but with Banks’ affinity for criminology – who really knows?

Truth be told, A Time To Be So Small isn’t really all that special. The bassline of Carlos Dengler is surprisingly tame, and there is very little musical deviance. While it likely wouldn’t sound better any other way, there’s just little room for extraordinary performances. The song carefully walks the listener through, evidently transitioning between verses, bridges, and choruses. The tempo remains at a relatively slow pace (especially in contrast to singles Evil and Slow Hands). The absence of energy is replaced for what seems like raw tension, and perhaps even aggression. While on paper, a song from the eyes of a lobster is inherently daft and foolish (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this), but I think there’s more to it than that. Interpol songs always have this broad concept that is presented with imagery that tends to appear nonsensical. Banks uses stories stashed away in his mind that he either created or heard of. A Time To Be So Small isn’t about a lobster. If it were, I’m sure it would have been titled A Time To Be A Lobster. The band isn’t known for coming up with very creative titles (Obstacle 1/2, Evil, NYC, Number 10). Yes, they titled the 10th track off of their most recent record MarauderNumber 10.  That’s where A Time To Be So Small is special. Not to say the contents are lackluster, as I could go on and romanticize every lyric (and let’s be real, I probably will), but it’s definitely one of my more favorite concepts that Banks has explored. I’m sure most can agree that being “watched” is certainly an unpleasant, creepy, and bottom line unwanted event. Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down does tamper with this idea, but A Time To Be So Small takes it a step further.

Anxiety. Lobster. Witness. Another word that has nothing to do with the previous. This song tells a tale of paranoia with a crustacean as the watcher. Have you ever done something so bad (or embarrassing), that you fear any pair of eyes that might have belonged to a bystander? Some call this feeling their mere existence. Banks calls it A Time To Be So Small. That’s right, in just under 5 minutes the listener gets transformed into a lobster in this seaside world of ropes and knots. You have witnessed a (maybe) terrible thing – but you’re a crustacean. What are you going to do about it? Just watch the story unfold into sonic perception? Yeah, pretty much.

Much like a hook that reels fish in, Banks produces a hook that reels you, the crustacean witness inwards. Each note passes by somehow less predictable than the last, and occupy an awkward time frame every time. This song is like the outro of Stella, calming, but still only a frame of sanity in a sea of eerie discomfort and tension, taken under the lens of a magnifying glass. Banks’ vocals protrude through any instrumentation unlike any track from Antics. “A creature is a creature though you wish you were the wind”. Reminder that you are a tangible, living being, with a memory between 1 and 2 weeks (courtesy of Google). “… the boat will not stop moving if you tie him up until the end” – oh, well, now we know. Turns out one of the two human characters in this Interpol song is indeed a psychopath/sociopath/murderer/delusional/serial killer. Who would’ve thought.

Perhaps it’s a subconscious connection, or maybe it’s just what Interpol is best at. Consider Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down has been brought up far too many times in this (shorter) review of a closing track. Allusions to all the macabre images I so cleverly paired to Banks’ voice earlier are as prominent as ever, and even tiny details like the use of the word cadaver in “when the cadaverous mob saves it’s doors for the dead men” is found between both tracks. It is fair to say if Antics does one thing better than Turn On The Bright Lights, it’s being radio friendly. Under no circumstance would I argue that A Time To Be So Small is a radio friendly hit, however. There’s a reason those fast tempo powerhouses I mentioned prior dominated the alt rock charts during their time. What I do think is, similar to how a particular crustacean witnessed the crime of a lifetime and is completely helpless, A Time To Be So Small witnessed the succession of it’s peers. Now it just sits at that Number 10 spot, all alone. Truly, A Time To Be So Small.

written by oliver

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