Plan B reemerges with a second album that presents quite the drastic transformation. His rapping is sharp on The Defamation of Strickland Banks, but it is sparingly utilized for maximum impact. Instead, the 27 year-old Brit rapper-slash-actor is flexing a surprisingly strong singing voice over Mark Ronson-inspired, Hip Hop-informed 60’s soul. And against all odds, it totally works.
His crooning is legitimate and professional; tracks like “She Said” and Welcome To Hell” feature a haunting falsetto that conjures Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson. And while someone like Daniel Merriweather might have the better voice, Plan B has clearly made the better album. No one owns this particular style more than Amy Winehouse, so the shadow of her classic Back To Black LP looms large over the proceedings here. But The Defamation of Strickland Banks is still a more-than-worthy participant in a British soul revival that is clearly still going strong.
The album’s concept –a British soul singer losing it all when he’s convicted of a crime he didn’t commit –doesn’t quite translate the way Plan B may have hoped. But, like any great concept album, the storyline doesn’t really matter either. There are some very strong songs here. Album opener “Love Goes Down” is a mesmerizingly smooth slice of classic soul, while “Stay Too Long” melds old school R&B with the energy of garage rock, recalling The Animals and The Sonics. But the standout track is “Darkest Place,” where over a bed of swirling strings Plan B executes The Defamation’s most compelling lyrical moment, lamenting “Are you real or a myth?/Is there a heaven or just an abyss?/Sometimes I wonder if you even exist/Cause if you do then you’re taking a piss.”
While Plan B’s take on a retro-soul sound is an accomplished one, he’s definitely not adding anything new to the style. So if you’re sick of Winehouse and Dap-Kings copycats, you may find yourself yawning your way through most of The Defamation of Strickland Banks. But I highly doubt that. The Defamation is one of those records that’s just too easy to love; its best moments are simply undeniable.