I’ve made no secret of being an Interpol fan. One of the first “indie” bands I had learned of, I remember scouring the web on a 56k modem for new material, delighting as I discovered Turn on the Bright Lights song by song, as a small-town record store carrying anything not on a major label was unheard of. Any material between albums was ravenously devoured, even something as insubstantial as the droning ‘Direction’ from the Six Feet Under soundtrack. This hasn’t changed for me, so when first hearing of a Paul Banks’ solo debut, my ears understandably perked up.
Interpol is often said to be a full band effort, with all four members contributing, so it’s interesting to hear what the lyricist/vocalist has to offer all by his lonesome. Thus far, the only taste of this was Paul Banks’ remix of ‘Narc’ from Interpol’s second, Antics, which transformed the song into an eerie and sparse acoustic ballad. To these ears, it was still intriguing. While Interpol have never strayed too far from their post-punk roots, Julian Plenti…Is Skyscraper finds Banks experimenting with a wide variety of new sounds. Lyrically, the album doesn’t deviate much from previous Interpol material. Meaning yes, every song is still basically about sex, and yes, there are some embarrassing lines, but I consider that part of the charm.
The opening track ‘Only If You Run’ strikes me as both an obvious future single and one of the album’s strongest tracks. Simple and straightforward, I get a ‘Where Is My Mind?’ vibe from it. ‘Fun That We Have’ was the first track made available to the general public, and while I was initially put off by the awkward bleeps and bloops during the chorus interspersed with rants about telekinesis, it’s definitely a grower. The title track ‘Skyscraper’ begins as a quiet acoustic melody that slowly grows, layer upon layer. From the haunting keys, to strings, to the background vocals just barely there, the atmosphere is second to none. ‘Games for Days’ is an Interpol meets Bloc Party pastiche that fares well, with the typically lecherous lyrics intertwined with a dancy beat. ‘Madrid Song’ takes a more sombre mood, with the defiant “come have at us, we are strong” interspersed with a recording similar to Our Love to Admire b-side ‘Mind Over Time’…
The haunting atmosphere is maintained on ‘No Chance Survival’ which highlights the orchestral flourishes found throughout the album. ‘Unwind’ features an odd pairing of a prominent horn section along with synthesizers as Banks serenades a current love. ‘Girl on the Sporting News’ is a sultry ode to a foxy lady. That riff makes me want to pick up my guitar again. ‘On the Esplanade’ stands out by being so understated; it’s definitely something you wouldn’t find on an Interpol album. Marked by Paul’s (or Julian’s) voice against a solo acoustic guitar, complemented by strings, I see it as the soundtrack to one of my dreams. However, the album hits a low point on ‘Fly As You Might’, which falls flat. The album then comes to a close with ‘H’, an instrumental piece containing several recordings of voices, whether this is a foreign language or gibberish, I can’t be entirely sure.
After the initial joy of actually having Interpol wore off, I was pleased to find that the album holds up rather well on repeated listens. After three albums, Interpol was in need of a little shake up. While not a drastic departure from the main band, some steps outside its confines provide a fresh sound. It should tide me over until the currently-in-progress album 4 turns up.