Release Date: Aug 4, 2009
Record label: Matador
A solo album -- yet not, Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper is the debut album from the alter ego of Interpol's Paul Banks. Plenti played acoustic performances around New York City during the late '90s until Interpol took off in 2001; it wasn't until 2006, thanks to the help of recording software Logic Pro, that Banks returned to the Plenti material. The Plenti identity -- as well as a host of musicians that only include a couple of Interpol collaborators -- gives these songs a little more distance from any Interpol baggage than if they were released as a Paul Banks' solo album.
Interpol frontman finds solid footing by breaking ground Paul Banks, who has never broken character as Interpol’s sharply dressed and coolly detached frontman, has both benefited from cutting a singularly engaging creative profile and suffered from stylistic typecasting. As such, Banks has a lot to prove with his first solo release, and he seems eager to use the Julian Plenti moniker to prove that he can command a wider array of tones and textures than those seen on Interpol’s three releases. This he accomplishes not by desperately attempting to shake off Interpol’s legacy with a series of flailing genre exercises but by trying to inject a bit of nuance and spontaneity into their mechanical push and pull.
This is Julian Plenti's debut, but he's no newcomer. Julian Plenti is the stage name of Paul Banks, lead singer for Interpol, and for his first solo album he's turned up some old material: "Girl on the Sporting News," "On the Esplanade," "Fly as You Might," and "Fun that We Have" date back to the pre-Interpol years when Banks/Plenti would play acoustic sets at anti-folk hangouts in downtown New York. The persona of Julian Plenti was resuscitated by the music software Logic Pro, which allowed Banks to rework old songs and provide instrumentation beyond guitar and vocals.
On the scale of rock star vanity, the solo project comes out on top, just above the supergroup. Add to that an alter ego, and things get dicey. Interpol singer/lyricist Paul Banks tries to break this trend, or ignores it altogether, with his Julian Plenti record..
Julian Plenti is ?actually Paul Banks of Interpol, New York’s most stylish indie-rock outfit. On his solo debut, Banks retains Interpol’s gloomy atmosphere — one tune is called ”No Chance Survival” — but exchanges the band’s orderly post-punk throb for a scrappier brand of alt-folk introspection. Given his chilly demeanor, Banks makes for an uneasy balladeer, and he sometimes overcompensates with treacly string ?arrangements.
On paper, this could have been an absolute trainwreck: Interpol guy resurrects his Eurotrash-y recording alias and puts out a solo album not-so-hot on the heels of his band's first truly not-good record. Though bassist Carlos D is probably the most widely lampooned member of Interpol, singer/guitarist Paul Banks-- he of "HER STORIES ARE BORING AND STUFF" and other louted lyrics-- often bears the brunt of unfair Joy Division comparisons and similarly unfair assertions that Interpol is "just" a rhythm section band. Banks' assumed moniker, and Skyscraper's "Law & Order: Special Birthdays Unit" artwork, didn't really do much to assuage the fear that this record would only provide more fodder for naysayers.
Even if the voice of Interpol’s Paul Banks weren’t the most easily recognisable in indiedom, not much effort has gone into disguising the identity of Julian Plenti. A moustache, glasses, a white shirt and a cover-story Agent Banks can tell without blinking because it’s basically true (that Julian Plenti started gigging in 1996, and then retired in 2001, just before Turn on the Bright Lights exploded). After the mild disappointment of Our Love to Admire (2007), ...Is Skyscraper's opener ‘Only If You Run’ lets you hope for a return-to-form on this solo record… or perhaps even a cure for the frustration of making music by committee.
Maybe Paul Banks, singer for Interpol, needed to assume an alter ego to put out this album to distance himself from his day job. And it might've worked had he not gone and written half an album's worth of songs that sound exactly like Interpol. [rssbreak] Guitar-driven Games For Days and Antics-like opener Only If You Run could slide easily onto any of Interpol's three albums, but they're not the record's best cuts.
Oh man, I was really worried when I heard The Fun the We Have. I was worried I’d volunteered to review an album I was going to absolutely hate, and I didn’t want to have to dog something that hard. I can’t even play an instrument. Luckily, as is many times the case, the first release from Skyscraper is pretty much the worst track, along with Unwind, and it became clear as I listened that it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
Paul Banks’ solo outing under the pseudonym Julian Plenti sounds less like Banks’ day job with Interpol and more like what a hypothetical Best of Modern Indie Music might sound like, should such a compilation ever exist. The production tricks—sometimes gimmicky, sometimes brilliant—from Interpol’s moderately impressive albums are nowhere to be found. Instead the album spends most of its time trying to find a popular indie fad and chase after it.