Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper

Sitting on the couch of what seems to be the loneliest birthday party ever as Julian Plenti, singer/songwriter Paul Banks, looks towards the horizon. No one really knows where the guests are, was anyone invited and if there is no one there, did Plenti really decorate this whole shebang by himself?

With that in mind, the idea of Banks resurrecting his old stage name and dollying up old songs with strings and other instruments didn’t sound like a formidable idea. For one, many people are still left with a sour taste in their mouth from the latest Interpol album, Our Love to Admire. Lacking vitality and that ominous cloud of loneliness, Interpol’s move to major label Capitol was an unstable, off-balanced suite. But interestingly enough, Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper is not so much a huge letdown, as much as it is a decent debut for Banks.

For all the glitz and glamour that the promo shots and cover give off, this is Banks enjoying freedom and liberation to create the kind of music he likes. The first strands of “Only if You Run” finds the singer in a melodic disguise. Singing, “Surprise, surprise, surprise,” his voice sounds rejuvenated while a sparkling guitar and whooshing atmospherics set up very attainable expectations.

I don’t know about you but I always liked my Interpol dark and gloomy. Even their ‘lighter,’ catchier side possessed a sense of brooding despair. If you’re familiar with the masterpiece that was Six Feet Under, then you also know that the producers of that show had a knack for choosing terrific music. Along with choice cuts from Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Phoenix, the second volume features an exclusive song, “Direction,” by Interpol. On this song, the band sways and pounds away for four minutes and the only words sung are Banks’ when he repeats, “Direction…direction…direction…” Taking full advantage of the space he has to work with, “Skyscraper” is an extension of that same great music. A repeating line of piano and acoustic guitar, it’s an instrumental that swells into a captivating swirl. Pulsating bass, followed by syncopated hi-hat ensues into Banks’ repetition of “Shake me, shake me, skyscraper.”

These thrilling moments come ever so seldom but when they do, it reminds you of the kind of magic Banks is capable of. On “Madrid Song,” he builds a skeletal being around strong piano chords. Short and direct, there is a weeping string section that creeps into a heartbreaking piano melody. Banks chants, “Come have at us, we are strong” and he fully succeeds in creating fine art. However, this is ascetically disproportioned with songs like “Unwind” and their silly stylings. What sound like Sgt. Pepper’s horns, fill the song with poppy cheese that is only further confused by perplexing lyrics like “I’ll make time just for you.”

Just around the bend are some great moments that are sprinkled about. There’s the pull and pound of “Games for Days,” more of the great acoustics on “On the Esplanade,” and the lead single, “Fun that We Have” is a catchy jam all on its own. The two latter songs were reworked off originals Banks had created in his first days as Plenti. If anything, they provide a clear canvas for Banks and a stable platform to release his music from.

I think that many of us expected it all to be a crash and burn session for the Interpol frontman. On the contrary, Julian Plenti is…Skyscraper is certainly not the great lost Interpol masterpiece, but it is a more than solid showing of what Banks is capable of. And for that, we can be thankful.

“Fun that We Have” by Julian Plenti