Arriving straight after his fantastic top 10 hit "End Credits" with Chase & Status and impressing Michael Caine with his acting chops in acclaimed British thriller Harry Brown, Plan B AKA 24 Year old Londoner Ben Drew is ready to release what is becoming one of the most anticipated albums of the year.
Produced by Paul Epworth, the studio genius behind recent hits by Florence & the Machine, The Big Pink and Friendly Fires, The Defamation of Strickland Banks is the sound of Motown, Stax and Northern soul, filtered through the grit of contemporary East London.
Plan B, or Ben Drew to avoid confusion with the various other Plan Bs in operation, first emerged to the mainstream in 2006 with the album Who Needs Actions When You Got Words. The Forest Gate fox set out his stall as a – putting it mildly – angry issues-based young man in thrall to Eminem, and would probably have had your eye out if you so much as looked as him funny. This led to an acting sideline in Noel Clarke’s Adulthood, as well as a star turn in last year’s Harry Brown.
Now, a few years on, our Ben has calmed down a bit and returned with a concept album (an accompanying film is in production) that should finally get him known past the gritty urban set, ascending to the national consciousness. The Defamation of Strickland Banks is a story-based soul-up volte-face about a man being wrongly sent dahn, and an album that will see Drew added to the list of artists who’ve delivered not-bad debuts, but amazing follow-ups.
A genuine great leap forward, Defamation is a cracker. The two breakthrough singles lead from the front – Stay Too Long manages to combine the urgency of northern soul with the giddiness of Drew’s breathless rap delivery, and the catchier She Said is a welcome addition to daytime radio. Elsewhere, on Welcome to Hell he trills like a scared-to-pick-up-the-soap-in-the-prison-shower Smokey Robinson, while Hard Times and Love Goes Down are just lovely – anyone operating in the greasy world of pop would give a limb for such songs. Prayin’ could give Amy Winehouse a run for her old soul beehive, and her recent work hovers over most of the arrangements and styles Ben decides to lend his ASBO soul revue. There’s a bit more swearing though, just in case you thought he'd gone totally soft.
Defamation is a great little album which could steer Drew towards being one of the year’s biggest pop stars, and further onto realising his film ambitions. Or, perhaps this is just a side-step for him, and he’ll go krautrock on album three. No matter, if this hasn’t shifted the best part of a million by 2010’s end, then I’ll despair. I really will. Tremendous work. --Ian Wade
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