Review Summary: A thoroughly uninteresting expansion on post-good Interpol’s sound, Skyscraper is an excruciating rundown of why Paul Banks has regrettably become one of the most irritating frontmen in indie rock.
Remember when the harshest critique one could give Interpol was that they were ripping Joy Division? Oh, those were better days. Days before Interpol dropped their lush textures and foreboding atmosphere, giving Paul Banks free reign to play ringmaster in a perverse circus where he could really say whatever he wanted in that robotic bleat that characterized the troubling Antics
and the god-awful Our Love to Admire
, days before they hid their greatest assets in the rhythm section with mind-numbingly simplistic parts while Banks waxed poetic on the tribulations of group sex or, more commonly, on nothing at all.
So where does Paul Banks get the gall to release a solo album? There are no reports of Interpol breaking up, and Our Love To Admire
certainly did nothing to raise Banks’ credibility as an artist. In fact, on paper, he’s exactly the type of artist who should never
release solo material: his voice lacks the chops to excuse his notoriously senseless lyrics for eleven songs, and as Our Love to Admire
’s failure with bare arrangements proved, Banks is best suited for a role supporting a band rather than a role as a leading man. When Banks came out with his new Julian Plenti
moniker, promises of a more electronic sound, and –wait for it- a “cocky, sexy” feel, one would be forgiven for being a bit wary of what he had in store, or for being downright scared after getting a glimpse of that album cover (I mean, just look
at that thing…).
Lead single “Fun That We Have” introduces the world to Julian Plenti by realizing those fears; the song’s exactly the kind of progression to shit
-jangle pop one would dread after Our Love to Admire
, with guitars stuttering maniacally and Banks doing his melancholy dance floor shtick, obsessively insisting ”with all the fun that we have, we have come far”
before a time change signals him to go into spooky-mode. It’s a schizophrenic mess, utterly failing as a teaser for Julian Plenti. With this type of introduction and Paul Banks’ established pattern of getting worse with each progressive release, it would’ve been a miracle if his debut album wasn’t a bottom of the barrel misfire, getting released only because of the half-interesting name behind it instead of the material inside. No such luck, however: Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper
is every bit as bad as it promises to be.
A thoroughly uninteresting expansion on post-good Interpol’s sound, Skyscraper
is an excruciating rundown of why Banks has regrettably become one of the most irritating frontmen in indie rock. For years he’s been getting away with using his distinct voice to make his perplexing lyrics sound dark in a pleasingly (or at least passably) twisted kind of way because his band crafted some superbly tight post-punk behind him. All he had to do was sound depressed and the machine would run. Banks’ solo arrangements do not support him the same way, if at all. Skyscraper
finds him trying desperately to expand his image with forays into different genres, but he never fails to get in his own way with lyrics so banal it’s a wonder someone didn’t stop and ask him what the fuc
k he was doing. It’s sad to listen to him experiment with folk balladry and (swear to god) arena rock
while crooning (or whatever it is that he does) lyrics like ”Girl on the sporting news, I just wanna tell you one thing: you’ve got the kind of sex appeal that doesn’t get a guy like me down!”
is filled with those
types of Banks lyrics, the kind of trademark brain-vomit that produces words that sound cute together but lack any semblance of cohesion. Skyscraper
simply does not have the tunes to pull this kind of drek off. On Turn On the Bright Lights
, rhyming couplets like ”Stories are boring and stuff/she’s always calling my bluff”
were excused in the name of atmosphere, and on Antics
, pole dancing cars were forgiven because the songs were still pretty good. But here? Here we get intimate Coldplay-style ballads about someone who it seems will most certainly die (“No Chance Survival”) or post-punk burners featuring biting insults (possibly) like “You taste just like the river.”
Even the stronger tracks get whacked by Banks’ plague: on the otherwise enjoyably hypnotic title track, Banks implores a skyscraper to shake him. However, nothing compares to perhaps the most awkward description of getting an erection ever, as Banks drops this holy-fuc
k gem on “Girl On the Sporting News:” ”So bring it up, bring clips of the sexiest sports moves in for the score. Fill it up, fill minutes up and talk about that glorious season until I'm sore.”
Perhaps the album peaks early with “Only If You Run,” if only because it doesn’t give away that the following ten songs will shit
all over Paul Banks’ image. It’s teasingly simplistic, with lines resembling endearment like ”You will make it, but only if you run.”
Its melody is catchy, its tone subdued. It’s Banks not trying to overreach his boundaries. In fact, the song wouldn’t sound out of place on the later Interpol albums, and that’s meant in the best way possible. It’s a quick nod to where Banks obviously belongs before he runs amok in his mediocrity, reminding us all how much he’s fallen since Turn On the Bright Lights
. That’s the worst thing about Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper
: It’s just another cruel reminder that Banks and his host band have lost almost everything that once made them special, and is another frustrating indication that they’ll never get it back.