Throughout his musical career, Paul Banks hasn’t quite been himself. From the very beginning, the Interpol front man had to shrug off the label of being a poor man’s Ian Curtis. Like the emblematic Joy Division singer, Banks has a knack for penning a glum lyric, but Curtis could transmit his demons with much more emotional vigour, and he even had some funky dance moves to boot. As a solo artist, Banks opted to hide himself behind an alter ego of Julian Plenti for his 2009 album Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper. But it doesn’t stop here, oh no. When not wallowing in the gloom of his doppelgangers, self-projected or otherwise, Banks has been known to moonlight as the hip-hop disc-jockey extraordinaire, DJ Fancypants. We all need to lift off our masks once in a while.
On his latest endeavour, however, all the masks are off. Having killed off Julian Plenti earlier this year, Paul Banks is now simply Paul Banks and his new album titled, Banks, is not about monetary institutions, nor is it about the sides of rivers. It is, ostensibly, an exercise in self exposure for its maker. This is most remarkably achieved through the stripping bare of the omni-chord, guitar centric melodies of Interpol and the embracing of a dynamic interplay of rhythm and bass more in tune with Banks’ fondness for classic hip-hop. The intro to ‘Young Again’ wouldn’t be out of place on a De La Soul album; then again, the opening lyric of ‘time is disgraceful, we’re all just watching as things fall apart’ isn’t quite a Plug One line. It’s this disparity between a vibrant, yet bare musical style and Banks’ customary lyrical heaviness that really brings precedence to what he is saying.
But the truth is, Paul doesn’t really say much on Banks, at least he doesn’t say anything that he’s not said before under his other guises; the same themes of beauty in conjunction with the macabre and a sinister sense of suppressed anger are brought through with poetic adeptness, just like in every Interpol album beforehand. But sometimes Banks doesn’t say anything at all. The jazzed up post-rock instrumental ‘Lisbon’ is too short to be considered a worthy effort comparable with the likes of Mogwai or Errors, and it’s far too long to be an interlude. Then there’s ‘Another Chance’, which loops a (whiny) spoken word sample over a string section that, at times, sounds like it should be the background theme to a high octane cookery show.
If Banks was supposed to be an exercise in self exposure, then Paul got tongue-tied at the big reveal. Indeed this album is far from being the unravelling of an artist that it sets itself up to be, but then again, who cares? Because the real purpose of this album needn’t be to bear the soul of its creator. Banks is the expression of individuality and musical experimentation that can often be restricted behind the branded image of a band or created persona. And this is what the album does, fusing together influences as dissimilar as gloom rock and hip hop – sometimes well, sometimes not so well- revealing the multifaceted musical interests of an ordinary, if not a bit grumpy, bloke.