Sound: I noticed UG lacked a review of Plan B's "The Defamation of Strickland Banks". So I decided to remedy this as best I can.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year or so (or don't live in the UK...) Plan B is the alias of Ben Drew; actor and film-maker. Perhaps most notably he co-starred with Michael Caine in Harry Brown as well as lending his vocals to the "End Credits" (with Chase and Status) back in '09.
Now, Plan B's debut record, "Who Needs Actions When You Got Words" was released in '06. It was essentially a British hip-hop album that was distinctive for its very dark lyrical content. It was a modest success.
However, Plan B's most recent effort "The Defamation of Strickland Banks" (2010) has done extremely well in the UK having gone 2xPlatinum, and in my opinion, deservedly so.
"The Defamation of Strickland Banks" is a soul-rap concept album that showcases Plan B's impressive lyrical ability as well as introducing his astonishing soul singing. He is frequently compared to Smokey Robinson and rightly so, he captures something of the same clear, yet emotional, crooning. What is even more enjoyable about the record is rather than slapping some brass down over a pop track, as has been the case with the recent faux-soul of Ronson-produced artists, Plan B has managed to, through careful production, reproduce and reinvigorate the real soul atmosphere.
However, not only have we this soul messiah, Plan B is also a very capable rapper. Every now and then he launches into an emotional address to the audience through his rapping that provides a great contrast with his singing, though never seeming out of place. It's not gratuitous, it actually fits the sound, which for me is the most surprising thing of all.
I regret to say that I'm going to give the sound of this album a ten. I hate doing it, but I honestly feel he deserves it. // 10
Lyrics: When Plan B first emerged onto the UK music scene his lyrical skill was quickly recognised.
This album, however, provides a unique challenge. The story of the album is that "Strickland Banks" (represented by Plan B) is a soul-artist who is convicted for a sexual assault he didn't commit. The first two songs are him playing a show, the third (the lead single) "Stay Too Long" is about him meeting the girl who would eventually accuse of him of rape. "She Said" (track 4) is his conviction, and the rest of his songs concern his time in prison.
Now, it's a testimony to his ability that I honestly don't want to reveal what occurs later in the album as it is quite an amazing story that he leads the listener on. Unlike many concept albums however, each song is excellent regardless of the context. You don't need to know the other songs to enjoy another. I think that if anything speaks volumes about his capability as a song-writer and a singer. // 9
Overall Impression: Quite frankly, this album doesn't compare to any modern soul albums that I'm aware of. I find it hard to describe without referring to legends like Smokey Robinson.
Whilst I said each song works very well on its own, really this album works best as a whole. This would be compromised, perhaps, if there were a single bad track but fortunately there isn't. I never find myself wanting to skip, which is quite a rarity.
I plead for you to give this album a chance. I can't help but feeling this is going to be one of those albums that really goes the distance and that people will still talk about in years to come, as cliched and f--king trite as sounds. // 9