Whilst solo projects have the scope to be a chance to explore territory than might otherwise be left untouched when working in a band, often that isn’t the case. For most spin-offs simply sound like a cheap, watered down version of the original product, which satisfies the hardcore fans, but leaves most mystified. There are exclusions of course, but it’d be hard to say that Paul Banks’ solo work under the monkier of Julian Plenti is one of those. Interpol’s msot recent effort might not have gained the critical response that Turn on the Bright Lights did, but it’s still in the top few hundred of the best albums of the 00’s.
Whilst the rest of the New York quartet recharged their batteries by making movies or whatever, Paul Banks decided to go back into the studio to record an album that sounds more like a love letter to his main band than anything else. It’s precisely that quality that makes ‘Skyscraper’ such a brilliant record. Whilst Interpol have toyed with a more orchestral set-up from time to time with tracks like ‘Rest my Chemistry’, banks manages to use this to form an entirely new body of work. Gone are the thudding bassline riffs and in comes piano, double bass and violin to craft a more languid, relaxed sound. On opener (and standout track) ‘Only if you run’, Banks sets out his stall. Whilst it’s still got quite lyrical content for large segments of the record, it’s a much warmer experience. Ultimately, there’s little else you can do other than simply enjoy this – it feels like a treat being able to sit in on one of the alternative music’s genuine stars.
Perhaps what keeps it rooted in his day job isn’t Banks’ intention, but in fact his voice. It’s a wonderful variety of monotonous droll, unique in being both quite dull and incredibly rivetting. Because it’s so recognisable, it’s difficult for the listener to do anything other than compare the works, despite the inherent differences. The arrangement for most of the tracks on ‘Skyscraper’ mean that it’s quite a slow album, and the closest track to a ‘Slow Hands’ style crowd pleaser is predictable single ‘Games for Days’. For innovation, it’s hardly a classic, but I can do nothing but love it and listen on repeat. ‘Madrid song’ never fails to raise emotion, and experimental final track ‘H’ is also a welcome addition on and album that flows with perfection. As far as appetisers go, it doesn’t get much better than this. Whilst 2009 certainly won’t be remembered for this, it’s definitely been improved because of it and has managed to become one of my highlights of the year.
Julian Plenti – Only if you run