Julian Plenti - Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper
Record Label: Matador
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Sometimes the easiest way to avoid your past is to change your identity. With that in mind, Interpol frontman Paul Banks has adopted the moniker Julian Plenti to release his solo work. Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper is chock-full of sounds and ideas that could never see the light of day (or more aptly, the dark of night) on any of his other band’s albums.
The departure from anything sounding remotely like Interpol is evident right out of the box on “Only If You Run.” It’s fairly clear that Banks was giddy to work with a more colorful palate of instrumentals. The drum beats are peppier, the guitar riffs have more variety, and Banks stretches his own voice farther. While it’s understandable to miss the hypnotic droning vocals he burst onto the scene with, it’s hard to fault a guy for actually singing. Besides, that vocal style wouldn’t work at all on Skyscraper.
All the different sounds work together to provide a varied palette. Julian Plenti is in full-on rock mode on the album’s best track, “Games For Days.” The chorus has a big “wall of sound” feel as power chords are hammered with pseudo-punk downstroke flair. The clunky, muted riff that begins “Fun That We Have” is just that: fun. Additionally, Skyscraper feels distinctly relaxed throughout. On tracks like “No Chance Survival” and “Unwind,” which combines fuzzed out guitar and vibes, there’s an ease to Banks that almost makes him seem like a completely different chap.
The lyrical work is in line with most everything in Banks’s back catalogue that predates Skyscraper. That is to say, it’s most really vague lyricism with a slight hint of mystery that allows for each listener to interpret what they will from them. For some reason this actually works quite well for a select few artists, and Banks is one of them (Thom Yorke being another). The only major lyrical downfall on the album comes during “Girl On The Sporting News,” which features odd musings such as, “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.” Umm yeah…
Skyscraper does exactly what a solo album from an established artist should do, i.e. allow them to experiment outside of their perceived comfort zone. “Skyscraper” and “On The Esplanade” are based around classically-influenced finger-picking. “Madrid Song” mixes a deliberate and simple piano part with spoken-word samples, a hushed refrain by Banks, slowly-drawn strings, and even some elephants trumpeting out. As the album closes with the dissonant sounds of “H,” it becomes evident that the thing that ties it all together is that while Julian Plenti allows Banks to do his own thing, it doesn’t feel self-absorbed in the least.
While Banks will likely never satisfy the legions of fans who only want another Turn On the Bright Lights, Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper is certainly better than Our Love To Admire. While it may not be spectacular, it’s incredibly solid and lacks any noteworthy flaws. If you’re willing to give the album a fair shake, you’ll see he has interesting music left in him.
I've never liked Interpol due to Banks voice, but I found myself really enjoying this record. "Games for Days" is easily my favorite. I also really like "Girl on the Sporting News" (though I agree the lyrics are weak). Great, well written review. I'm happy to see this album mentioned on the site.
Good review, I agree with most of your points. But line about experiments and comfort zone confuses me a bit. It sounds to me that music that he was doing with Interpol was just served in a different way. And I'm also glad that this great album was mentioned on the site, thank you.