ASBO rapper turns sweet-voiced soul boy
Plan B - The Defamation Of Strickland Banks

Let’s sort this one out up front. Ben Drew, AKA Plan B, has transformed himself from a hoodied, ASBO rapper to a sweet-voiced soul boy. That’s all.

In fact, his debut album (2006’s notorious ‘Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words’) contained a couple of songs on which his surprisingly delicate falsetto took centre-stage. So, we’re hardly in Ziggy Stardust territory here. The reason for this musical reorientation is new album ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’.

Yep, it’s a concept album; the tracks form the chronology of a story about a soul singer (Strickland Banks, no less) who is accused of a crime, sent to prison and, well, we won’t spoil the outcome. The sonic transformation works, most notably on the spinning arpeggios of ‘The Recluse’ (on which a desperate Banks/Plan B refuses to leave his cell), or the swaggering Motown of ‘Prayin’ (which sets Banks begging his Lord for mercy). However, Plan B’s jackhammer rapping has not been completely jettisoned.

A number of tracks allow his luscious croon to crash, mid-song, against a juddering rap, best displayed on the heightening hysteria of lead single ‘Stay Too Long’, with our man Banks “running from cops”. The chameleonic changes don’t stop there - the glitzy mamba of ‘She Said’ and the Smokey-smooch of ‘Hard Times’ both deliver musically, but there’s a lyrical clunkiness which lets the concept down.

Drew intends to turn ‘Strickland Banks’ into a film, giving the album the feel of being an ‘OST’ to an, as yet, unmade musical - with Drew vastly overstating the simple plot. But, even if there are occasional flirtations with bland daytime soul sludge, Mr. Strickland Banks is a welcome addition to Ben Drew’s beguiling set of alter-egos.


Words by John Freeman

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