Four years after Plan B garnered notoriety, if not universal acclaim, with his debut album Who Needs Actions When You Got Words (2006), he switched styles from rap to soul on his follow-up effort, Defamation of Strickland Banks. Though it's distressing to hear yet another artist hop about the retro-stylized British soul-pop bandwagon, rapper-turned-singer Ben Drew nonetheless comes up with an impressive and fairly unique album that transcends the usual comparisons to Amy Winehouse vocally and Mark Ronson musically. For someone who cut his teeth as a rapper, he's not a bad singer at all. His vocals bear a striking resemblance to those of Smokey Robinson, which nicely complements the Motown-influenced musical style of the album. The production is credited in part to Paul Epworth, whose work with Bloc Party, Kate Nash, and Florence + the Machine has made him one of the United Kingdom's top hitmakers, and it's also credited in part to Drew himself. Kudos to these guys for coming up with a sharp soul-pop style that incorporates a variety of instrumentation, with drums, guitar, and strings at the forefront of each song. In addition to his soul crooning and production guidance, Drew occasionally breaks into rap, such as on the kinetic lead single, "Stay Too Long." The raps in particular give the album an edge lacking in myriad other British soul-pop albums flooding the market the past few years. Another characteristic that makes Defamation of Strickland Banks unique is that it's a concept album about a fictional character named Strickland Banks with Drew as an aspiring actor with an ability to bring the songs to life cinematically. Yet this is the least impressive aspect of the album. It made for good promotional videos in the case of "Stay Too Long," and the likewise stellar follow-up single, "She Said," but the overall plot of Defamation of Strickland Banks is thinly stretched and far less interesting than the songs themselves.
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