I'd been waiting for this album for years. Loved the first album and was expecting more of the same. Then I discovered Stay Too Long on the web. That voice! High, melodic, impassioned. Soul! But then the rap returns, urgent and visceral. Then She Said was released. More soul, less rap. But wonderful.
And finally, after what, five years? the new album is out. And it's amazing! Ben Drew's voice is just so good. Comparisons are never good, but Smokey Robinson is as good a touchstone as any. The songs are heart-achingly melodic, with thoughtful, well-constructed lyrics that build up, song by song, into a concept album as visual as any film. And some of these sweet soul songs have no rap at all - and they are sublime.
Some people don't seem to like it when an artist switches genres. Neil Young's has had detractors throughout his shifting career. Dylan was panned for going electric; Waits for dropping an octave; DJ Shadow for embracing rap. Ignore the doubters. Plan B's album is superb by any standards, and tracks like Writing's on the Wall, Prayin' and the Recluse offering sound proof that the man doesn't need to do only rap.
I've read that Plan B is planning on experimenting with other genres. This time round, he's produced soul worthy of Atlantic, Stax or Motown - in fact, at times, listening to Strickland Banks is like listening to some of those lost gems from the Cellarful of Motown albums. Wonderful! Next time round, given his great voice - think John Holt, Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker - maybe he should tackle Trojan ska. Verses is half way there. Rocksteady rap. A new genre. On the evidence of the superb Defamation of Strickland Banks, if anyone can make it work, it's Plan B.
And by the way, fork out the couple of extra quid for the deluxe edition. The live versions and mixes are well worth it.