Ben Drew’s shift to conceptual Motown is surprisingly snazzy, but we still like him best scary

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Album Review: Plan B - 'The Defamation Of Strickland Banks' (679)

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Album Review: Plan B – ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’ (679)

High unemployment clearly isn’t affecting UK MCs, as they keep popping up in new jobs. [b]Ms Dynamite[/b] has reappeared as a breakstep vocalist on [b]DJ Zinc[/b]’s [b]‘Wile Out’[/b], while [b]Craig David[/b]’s released an album of soul covers. Now [b]Plan B[/b] – who you may remember as the rapper who struck fear into children and the elderly with his spectacularly violent soliloquies on debut [b]‘Who Needs Action When You Got Words’[/b] – has come back with a collection of Motown pastiches. Go figure.

The transformation is glaring. Album opener [b]‘Love Goes Down’[/b] is smothered in [b]Lionel Richie[/b] sax lines and call and-answer backing singers. From there on, it’s horn stabs, blues guitar and pretend vinyl crackle all the way.

By rights, you should hate it. Yet, as a Motown caricature it’s oddly loveable. [b]Plan B[/b]’s go at [b]Smokey Robinson[/b]’s falsetto is admirable, and unlike recent efforts to recapture the ’60s from the likes of [b]Duffy[/b] and [b]VV Brown[/b], he’s actually got some stonking tunes rather than just an expensive producer.

But [b]Plan B[/b] is attempting more than merely an enjoyable homage because (whisper it) this is a concept album. [b]‘…Strickland Banks’[/b] isn’t just the title but the record’s lead character, a wheeler-dealer who ends up incarcerated. We daren’t reveal any more of the ‘storyline’, because it’s completely ludicrous and laced with constant cliché. There’s even a bit where he sings about the dark cell within his mind, presumably as he ticks a checkbox marked ‘metaphor’. The whole narrative element is torturously cringeworthy, aiming at [b]A Grand Don’t Come For Free’[/b] but ending up closer to [i]High School Musical 2[/i].

When he falls back into his old ways, though, all is forgiven. The rapped verses on the best track, [b]‘The Recluse’[/b], prove that [b]Plan B[/b] is still one of the most talented MCs in the country. His dynamic, free-flowing streams of consciousness show up a lot of today’s grime-pop pap-rappers. Not a bad record then, but one that’s debased by the disappointment of one of the UK’s bright hip-hop hopes selling soul rather than surprises.

[b]Sam Wolfson[/b]

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