From Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines to Beyoncé Knowles as Sasha Fierce, the musical alter-ego has a long and pitiful history. Interpol's Paul Banks has thrown his hat into the pseudonym ring, recasting himself as 'Julian Plenti' for his first solo album. And he's done so in all earnestness, too: conducting interviews in character, journalists have been instructed to call him 'Julian,' with any reference to Interpol forbidden. Whether Banks is method-ing out and spending all day 'as' Plenti is unknown; but we can be sure that he's at least attempting to operate in musical character.
There could, of course, be a blander reason for all of this: Banks may not be undertaking some extreme performance-art endeavor, but, rather simply as a way of getting round some specific clause in his contract with Capitol. Either way, his use and abuse of the nom de plume is no dalliance, and, all the nimble pirouetting around identity does make for quite a dance.
Paul Banks is Julian Plenti, who is... Skyscraper, who is... what exactly? Well, for all those layers of nomenclature and all his efforts to make Julian Plenti some method-acting outing, Banks has delivered a solo debut that sounds inescapably, inextricably like the solo record of that dude from Interpol.
Do the Clothes Maketh the Man?
Given the stylistic singularity that's defined his musical day-job, once can see why Banks would want to wander. The front-cover of Julian Plenti is... Skyscraper begins the attempt: after a decade dressed in Interpol's matching black evening-wear, Banks lounges in a pale blue shirt and boat shoes without socks. Whether or not he's gone neat casual just because that's how Julian Plenti would dress is, in a sense, immaterial; immediately, before you've heard a single note, you're primed for something different.
In truth, it's only the singular sound of Interpol —a band whose every song essentially sounds the same— that allows Skyscraper to feel 'varied.' No 'pol LP would give you "Skyscraper," all fingerpicked acoustic guitar and stabs of hysterical strings, or "H," minor incidentalism built on synthesizers and sampled-vocals, or "Madrid Song," which matches plinking piano to field-recorded monologues.
Yet, even in those moments, there's still Banks' voice. His unmistakable, near-monotonal singing is so singular that it obliterates any attempts to distance Plenti from Interpol. Even minus the thundering rhythm-section and the sheets of electric guitar —like "On the Esplanade"'s earnest acoustic-guitar/string-section balladry— Banks' voice keeps things forever tethered to his musical past.
Which is to say nothing of the songs —"Only if You Run," "Games for Days," "Fly as You Might"— that sound rather like Interpol demos, if not just Interpol themselves. If Julian Plenti is truly supposed to be Banks operating in character, it's safe to say he's hardly a master of disguise.
Record Label: Matador
Release Date: 4 August 2009