Imagine an album on which every track is a fully conceived and superbly executed pop gem, at once timeless and unique, with hooks to die for, gorgeous, chiming guitar breaks, compelling, literate, emotionally charged lyrics, and a passionate and driven vocalist who ties all these distinct elements together into a perfect package, without the slightest trace of gimmickry or trendiness. Now imagine that this record is released with virtually no record label support, is totally ignored by radio and the music press--even the "hip" music press--and subsequently stiffs in the racks, disappearing without a trace. Such is the tragic truth of Interview self-titled second LP (titled Snakes and Lovers overseas), released in 1980.
The Bath band's 1979 debut, Big Oceans, was a lackluster effort, notable primarily for interesting fretless bass work and some intellectually appealing subject matter, as on "Hart Crane In Mexico," and "Academies To Anger." What an unexpected turn of events then, when the band re-emerged the following year with what is unquestionably one of the greatest rock albums ever. From the opening strains of "Adventurers," with its rhyming guitars sounding the album's arrival, the listener knows that something very special lies ahead. As vocalist Jeff Starrs mounts the chorus, "On a day like today/I can help you be/Tall, brave, and strong," those rousing guitars enter once again, and my God, you believe him.
There is simply no let up in quality on this record. The single "Hide and Seek," with its enchanting chorus and pseudo-"Mr. Sandman" backing vocals has "hit" written all over every note. The record did nothing. The list of sure-fire shouldabeens continues: "It's Over Now," ("How can I comfort you/When you don't want me to?"), the metaphorical "Crossing Borders," and the confusion of lost love of "To the People" all delivered with confidence and maturity, and an uncanny knack for pop hooks, are classic examples of what pop music can become in the right hands.
Elsewhere, we find the gentle piano and soft cushion of synthesized keyboards of "Union Man," utterly resigned in attitude, in which the failure of a workers' uprising is as predictable as the coming of the spring rain. Starrs, and co-writers Alan Brain and Peter Allerhand never glorify, as other, less mature outfits might (U2 come to mind). They merely observe. "The Conqueror" is a scathing attack against female domesticity: "'Let's go get married'/Is that all I hear you say?/There's a conqueror here I have to slay." On an album of masterpieces, this track may be the most masterful of all. The tempo has been slowed, giving Starrs time milk every note of all its energy, as he seethes with anger and inner turmoil.
By album's end, after eight overwhelming minutes of shame and personal wreckage in "Until I Hold Her," ("There's nothing that I can do until I hold her/And you must never tell her that I told you"), a musical equivalent of the destruction scene in Citizen Kane, the listener is exhausted, drained, but still hoping for more. Unfortunately, there is no more. INTERVIEW died as quietly as they arrived, and no one even showed up for the funeral.
Whose fault is it that Interview were never given a chance? Surely, their label, Virgin Records is the primary culprit, making no attempt whatsoever to market the band. The music press too is culpable. While it's expected that corporate beasts like Rolling Stone should ignore them, nary a word was written about the band in either Trouser Press or New York Rocker, the two finest music magazines of that era. (Okay, to be fair, "Hide and Seek" had a nice sentence written about it by Ken Barnes in NYR, and even the folks at Rolling Stone give the album a few words of (misdirected) praise in their otherwise laughable Record Guide.) Certainly, radio, both corporate and college, could have provided INTERVIEW with their most obvious and natural home. It didn't.
It's futile to wallow in such past blunders at this late date, unless, of course, some label decides to pick up the record for release on CD, in which case Interview might, just might, have the chance to finally be recognized for what they were.