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Album review: Julian Plenti - 'Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper'

Interpol frontman unleashes alter-ego; it bodes well for his main band, too

Album review: Julian Plenti - 'Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper'

Julian Plenti is the alter-ego of Paul Banks from Interpol, though actually it’s not much of an ‘alter’, since he’s as anonymous a frontman as you’ll ever see. That works perfectly for Interpol of course, providing a blank screen for their shadowy songs, but frankly, the idea of Banks going solo isn’t exactly something to get your knickers in a twist about.

Yet this is something of a pleasant surprise, as it’s neither a cringeworthy theatrical reinvention nor a simple rehash of his main band’s music. Sure, the stately rhythms, angular guitars and of course his weirdly reedy-yet-sonorous voice remain, but Banks adds beats, synths and strings into the mix for a sound which is never less than compelling. On the loud, expansive side, the melodic distortion of ‘Only If You Run’ sounds like a human Gary Numan, and ‘Games For Days’ begins with Nine Inch Nails-style industrial drum beats then flourishes out into a chorus which could almost be by Girls Aloud, and ends with Banks simply repeating “this is amazing”. It actually is. Of the softer songs, ‘Skyscraper’ is most impressive, a string-led mood piece filled with dread and unease, although ‘No Chance Survival’, a delicately melodic, jazzy number, and ‘On The Esplanade’, a nice dream-logic acoustic lullaby, run it mighty close.

There are a few clunkers: ‘Unwind’ sounds like the Lightning Seeds trapped in a tumble dryer, and ‘Girl On The Sporting News’ has its pretty circular motions undone by an absolute shocker of a lyric (“Fill the minutes up and talk about that glorious season”, et cetera), but often the risks taken pay off. ‘Fly As You Might’ largely restrains itself to one basic blues riff and is all the more powerful for it, while the closing ‘H’ is an instrumental with an Oriental feel that sounds like incidental music from some Chungking Express-style neon-noir.

This is a flawed, sometimes absurd, but always intriguing album that repeatedly approaches being something special. It’s fair to say Interpol probably pushed their sound to the limit on their last album to the point where it was beginning to feel a little tired, so this album bodes well for any possible reinvigoration of the band. As for Paul Banks, well, hiding once more behind Julian he’s as elusive as ever, something which both limits and frees him up. You’re not going to get enough raw emotion for him to truly touch you, but he doesn’t half know how to get under your skin.

Martin Robinson

Click here to get your copy of Julian Plenti's 'Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper' from the Rough Trade shop


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