The history of rock-rap combinations throughout the music has always produced mixed results. On one end of the spectrum, you have Beastie Boys, and particularly its seamless mix of punk and rap on Ill Communication (see Sabotage), as well as early efforts from Run D.M.C. More significant has been the impact of Eminem, particularly through tracks like “The Way I Am”, “Fight Music” and “Sing For the Moment”. You also have the Linkin Park/Jay Z collaboration about a dozen years ago, which had a couple of brilliant moments, but also a few dreadful moments. More commonly, the attempts to fuse the two best genres of music to emerge from the last century have been an embarrassment. The thought of Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and The Hollywood Undead still leaves the foul stench of teenage angst, embarrassing white people and too much a hair gel.
But when Paul Banks, lead singer of Interpol (a band which produced one of my top five albums of all time) teamed up with RZA of Wu-Tang Clan (A group which produced one of the best rap albums of all time) to create Banks and Steelz, I ignored conventional wisdom completely and decided that even before they released any music that it was going to be a triumph. Of course, Interpol are a bit different to Limp Bizkit, and the only examples of “Indie Rock” and hip-hop I can think of is a superb Arctic Monkey’s B-Side, a dreadful You Me at Six/Chiddy Bang collaboration, the remotely average twenty one pilots, and early Jamie T.
The first thing that can be said for Banks and Steelz debut “Anything But Words” is that nothing on the album touches anything from Interpol’s masterpiece “Turn on the Bright Lights”, nor does most of it touch anything from “Enter the Wu-Tang”, but I don’t think even the ardent fans of both ever thought it would, and all this fact tells us is the album is bellow a 9/10, which again from a collaboration album is expected. One of the biggest questions from the small group of people who like both Interpol and Wu-Tang has been how the two very contrasting styles would mix. Underneath, both have gritty sounds that have both have an NY attitude to them, but that’s where the similarities end. Through the more characteristically Wu-Tang sounding tracks, such as “Can’t Hardly Feel” and the lead single “Love and War”, the whole sound is slightly disjointed, with the heavy beats not suiting Paul Bank’s brooding vocals. On “Speedway Sonora” on the other hand, it feels as if Banks and Steelz fall for a more lazy, generic rock sound which doesn’t particularly suit either of them.
But don’t worry, it’s not all so disjointed. Where the album finds its strength is, at a large, on tracks where the production mirrors the dark brooding nature on Interpol, such as on “Conceal” and “Wild Season”, the latter featuring a great guest performance from Florence Welsh. However the best two moments on the album, “Ana Electronic” and “Giant” neither sound like Interpol nor Wu-Tang. Ana Electronic for example, has a juicy guitar lick closer to The Strokes than Interpol, which bounces perfectly over the rest of the production and supplements both the ferocity RZA’s flow and Bank’s voice. Giant meanwhile is simply a hip-hop smash with RZA on top form and Paul Banks on a satisfying hook.
Ultimately, Anything But Words offers you everything you would expect from an Interpol/Wu-Tang mash up, so if you are a fan of both, I expect you to like it, if you dislike both already, I would just listen to “Giant” and then leave the rest.
Verdict: 6.8/10 – Everything you’ve come to expect