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

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

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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