Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Review by Jack Foley
ANYONE prepared to dismiss Plan B – aka Ben Drew – as merely a rapper had best think again; over the course of 12 months, he’s emerged as a great actor (in Michael Caine revenge thriller Harry Brown), and now as a bona fide soul singer.
The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, his eye-opening follow-up to genre probing debut album Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, is a real statement of talent.
It’s the sound of Motown, Stax and Northern soul, filtered through the grit of contemporary East London – an impressive fusion of Smokey Robinson fused with Eminem.
Essentially an urban fairytale, the album tells the story of Strickland Banks, a sharp-suited British soul singer who finds fame with bitter-sweet love songs like Love Goes Down and Writing’s On The Wall but loses everything when he ends up in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Explaining his decision to change genres and style so dramatically, the straight-talking Drew says: “If you went and saw a Martin Scorsese film and it was exactly the same as his last film you’d be like, ‘what the fuck was the point in that?’
“I’m a director but I’m choosing to do my films through music – a film for the blind. Just close your eyes listen to the story.”
The ensuing 13 tracks are, by turns, celebratory, heartbroken, viciously ferocious and often jaw-droppingly good.
Plan B stills pulls no punches lyrically, although the anger that marked his debut LP has noticeably been restrained. But as an unfolding narrative and a compelling story in words and music, it’s an imperious, audaciously talented piece of work.
The Marvin Gaye meets Daniel Merriweather style is both retro leaning and contemporary focused, while flashes of rap nicely tip Plan B’s hat to his breakthrough success and hip hop influences.
But the songs, too, are tremendously accomplished, whether it’s the heart-on-sleeve soul moments such as Hard Times, the desolate Welcome To Hell (which drops one of the sharpest beats on the LP with some sensational soul backing), or the rigorous strings-backed The Recluse.
The gospel backed Traded In My Cigarettes is another gem, while the robust Northern Soul infused Prayin’ is another fine example of Plan B’s accomplished storytelling ability.
The hits on the album fly thick and fast, though, and eventually come full circle, from light to darkness and back to light again, with closing efforts such as Free recalling the finest Motown traditions and the acoustic backed I Know A Song showcasing a more sensitive side (and romantic).
In short, this is an amazing sophomore session from an artist who just keeps surprising in ever more wonderful ways.
Download picks: Love Goes Down, Stay Too Long, She Said, Welcome To Hell, Hard Times, Traded In My Cigarettes, I Know A Song