When hearing news of a solo Paul Banks album, the average Interpol listener couldn’t help but be excited at what that young New Yorker could do when not restricted by the binds of Interpol. Turn On The Bright Lights is understandably considered one of the best debut albums – in fact – simply best albums of the 21st Century, and while the band has arguably declined in its follow up efforts, they have been an interesting act to follow. However, when it was revealed that Paul would be releasing it under the age old moniker of “Julian Plenti” (a remixer of Interpol tunes and the likes), it left many to wonder that perhaps he wished to shake the reputation that was associated with his name.
So, let’s get this straight from the start: Julian Plenti…is Skyscraper is most definitely not an Interpol album. With large industrious drum beats, samples, large orchestras and textured production, it’s very easy to see that
Banks Plenti is ambitious with his debut effort. The problem is, that ambition does not always necessarily translate to success. “Madrid Song” can be somewhat interpreted as the album centrepiece, attempting to make a strong impression by being simplistic in it’s approach with bare piano and a lone sweeping violin. However, it is quickly accompanied by a series of vocal samples which assist in breaking Plenti’s refrain of, “Come have at us, we are strong.” Whilst it is (in its most basic form) a lovely ballad, it’s hard to appreciate, as it comes off as Plenti simply trying too hard. And this is Skyscraper‘s major flaw; it is too difficult to ignore the Banks that we have all come to recognise from Interpol fame.
If this were the solo efforts of a young up-and-comer from the depths of New York, perhaps the reception may be different for Plenti. However, as Pascal’s observation on admiration once noted, it is difficult to admire Skyscraper, as we understand it’s origins of a front-man of a band which seem to be dwindling in their efforts. While this may all seem as though it is Banks-Bashing (a phrase which I hope doesn’t catch on, but couldn’t help but add for alliteration purposes), Plenti’s album is admirable, and even enjoyable. Opener, “Only If You Run” highlights some of Bank’s best aspects as a song writer, turning simplistic music into something seemingly complex. Although his lyrics are not as daunting as they once were, he still seems plagued by an unrecognisable bug, which is intriguing to listen to, “I’ve had my frustrations about the pains of daily life/I’ve tasted degradation…” The simplistic formula continues to “Unwind” which perhaps carries one of Bank’s greatest hooks to date through blaring brass. His vulnerabilities seep through once more as his raspy voice is thrown side to side by a tremolo, “I see your face and I let you own me” It’s a simple song, with that melodic premise influencing the entire track.
Perhaps Skyscraper‘s best moment is closing track, “H” (…and not because it’s nearly over). It begins as an optimistic piano ballad, cursed by a haunting flute-like synth, before being thrown into a ghastly well of deranged Middle-Eastern sounding backwards sampled vocals. As quickly as it turned evil, it regains its conscious and builds, layer upon layer, creating a grand atmosphere of optimism, hope and passion. It’s a strangely beautiful track, and is oddly thought inducing. Perhaps the most prominent of which: Where will Paul Banks go from here?