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The Defamation of Strickland Banks
From incendiary rapper to retro soul hero - the inspired reinvention of Ben Drew
Francis Jones, 13 Apr 2010
He’s changed, has Ben Drew. 2006’s Who Needs Actions When You’ve Got Words – his debut as Plan B – was an obscenity-strewn missive from the mean streets of modern Britain. The tracks were sharp as shards of glass and so gritty they left the taste of gravel in your mouth. Here, however, we find him moving away from the grimy rap of old towards exuberant, Motown-flavoured cuts. The boy even sings, his sweet croon intercut with the occasional, typically abrasive rhyme.
Having recently appeared in, and provided music for, the films Adulthood and Harry Brown – Drew brings a cinematic sensibility to this album, ensuring it has a cohesive narrative. The story charts the ruin of the titular character, a soul singer imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. ‘Love Goes Down’ lays down an impressive marker, its righteous gospel groove inciting you to holler Hallelujahs. ‘Hard Times’ plays like Terence Trent D’Arby on top of his game and ‘The Recluse’ whips up a cyclone of strings and paranoia. Elsewhere, ‘Prayin’’ makes a fabulously spirited plea for redemption, whilst ‘Free’ is pushed heavenwards by blasts of celestial brass. In the hands of lesser talents, such blue-eyed soul could suggest Mick Hucknall rather than Marvin Gaye. However, like Jamie Lidell before him, Plan B makes a convincing case for the white-boy, English soul singer.
By Drew’s own admission, the heartfelt music on The Defamation of Strickland Banks is the sort of thing he previously shied away from for fear he be accused of being an imposter. However, by voicing his vulnerabilities and engaging with the soul music he’s always loved, he’s proved himself an exceptional, not to mention exceptionally brave, songwriter.