Album Reviews

Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper

(Matador) UK release date: 3 August 2009

Julian Plenti sounds like the star of an early ’70s English soft-core porn film. Julian Plenti: Confessions of a Lounge Singer. Julian? Oh yeah, he’s got plenty… Guffaw guffaw. Snarf. Snarf.

He also sounds uncannily like Paul Banks. From Interpol. Which is uncanny, because he looks quite uncannily like Paul Banks from Interpol. Wait a minute. He is Paul Banks from Interpol, in the downtime between, well, down times.

So Plenti is what Banks did prior to the whole writing-stories-and-stuff gig properly took off. And Is Skyscraper is really not bad.

Of course Banks is here instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Interpol, both as a vocalist and a lyricist. There’s the same languid baritone, persistently draped in shadows, and there’s the same tendency to treat the English language as a tightrope. A line to tread between penning prose of great poetic beauty and traipsing through with all of the grammatical grace of a rollerskates-shod racehorse. On ice.

But it’s a deceptive familiarity, because it hides quite how offbeat some of this is. Opener Only If We Run is fairly Interpolian, all heavy pacing bass and gently arcing guitar lines, but The Fun That We Have is borderline schizophrenic. It begins with the kind of frantic fret board chopping that makes you think of those Blur boys Graham and Damon flinging themselves against the walls of a carpeted room, before spearing off in a totally different direction.

It’s the first sign that his music could well follow the same non-sequitur inserting format as his words – it’s the equivalent of the moment on Turn On The Bright Lights where Banks goes from telling us of his friend the butcher to screaming “OH LOOK IT’S STOPPED SNOWING!” without missing a beat.

Not that it isn’t a strangely entrancing song. Something about it holds the interest. There’s a smirk in its eye, a dead body in its past, a gimp handcuffed to a post in its basement, something odd going on that keeps you coming back to see what’s now happening.

Some of the other stylistic swerves are less well received. Unwind could well be a Brendan Benson G-side, bouncing along on a jaunty guitar angle before breaking out parping trumpets with a Mark Ronson-esque zeal, while Girl On The Sporting News collapses under the weight of its own weird metaphors.

But Banks (or Plenti) displays a far more appealing lightness of touch with some of the more acoustic numbers. To be fair, he’s demonstrated this type of affiliation before – check his stripped-down deconstruction of NARC for an example of this. But there is a simple beauty in the arrangements of Madrid Song and On The Esplanade which really suit the forlorn croon. A hint of Nick Drake-like desolation creeping in amongst the finger-picking.

It’s an album delivered with the minimum of fanfare, and all the better for it. Not all of it works; it doesn’t make you long for Banks to decide a life of Plenti is better than a life of Interpol, but Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper is an oddly captivating listen.

buy Julian Plenti MP3s or CDs
Spotify Julian Plenti on Spotify

More on Julian Plenti
Julian Plenti @ Scala, London
Julian Plenti – Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper