Whatever happened to Interpol? Paul Banks used to lead one of the most exciting bands on the planet. They were dark, they were dirty, representing the more sophisticated side of noughties New York cool. Gun-holster-wearing bassist Carlos Dengler was the perfect anti-hero to louche Lothario Banks. Most importantly, they had an arsenal of killer songs to back it all up.
For the last few years they have plodded the middle bracket of a thousand festivals, at best consolidating and at worst provoking mass indifference. Their last album came and went with a whimper, feeling half-hearted in comparison to the unstinting punch of their earlier work. Carlos D looked utterly bored of being in a band and eventually left. The others appeared non-plussed and chugged along rudderless until hiatus beckoned.
Now Banks is back with a solo record, unimaginatively titled ‘Banks’. It’s make or break time for Clacton-on-Sea’s coolest son. Thankfully, the first cut from the record contains enough menace and intensity to suggest the life signs look good. Banks is searching for a change on ‘The Base’. “Can a man turn the page/While he’s trying to amaze?” Like all great Banks lyrics, the song floats past undetected, then squats in your subconscious for days.
Musically it has greater breadth, but crucially the delicious tension that hallmarked Interpol’s finest forays. Tension’s the thing holding Interpol and their music together; the sense that it could all break apart as swiftly and subtly as it builds. From ‘Obstacle 1’ to ‘Not Even Jail’, there is a taut current, sexual and quarrelsome, charging the songs. Most of the ideas – even the complex ones – on the last self-titled Interpol album came out straightforward, unravelling flat.
On Banks’ first solo outing as Julian Plenti this complacency was present in the odd lax chorus and dribbling riff, nailing all the trappings of frontman turned lone ranger. His recent ‘Julian Plenti…Lives’ EP was cluttered with covers, never a good sign that a creative peak is on the horizon. ‘Banks’ could be different though. This time it’s serious. ‘The Base’ is tight, it’s urging action. The singer is isolated, his only contact the monolithic Base of the title and cover art. He’s back on the edge, treading the dark shades around the light that made Interpol so fascinating.
Could Interpol recapture their early magic? “I will not be staying long,” Banks insists on The Base. Interpol were always best when you weren’t sure what was coming next. They need to regroup – perhaps give a certain Mr Dengler a call – and get their rejuvenated lead singer back in the studio while he’s back to writing songs good enough to bear his band’s name.