Plan B: The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Photo (partial) by Ben Parks

A British soul singer is imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit on this lively concept album.

Plan B

The Defamation of Strickland Banks

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2011-04-19
UK Release Date: 2010-04-12
Artist website

A prosperous genre in the UK, British rap is largely overlooked in the US. Not all is merry and gay in England; the amount of hoodies, chavs, and ASBOS (Anti-Social Behavior Orders) alone make a convincing enough argument for chronicles of inner-city British life to provide fodder for the rap mill.

Ben Drew, better known as British rapper Plan B, provided a perfect case in point with his debut, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words. An aural escapade through council estate life, its songs concerning incestuous 14-year-olds and necrophilia adventures made calling it dark as a morgue at midnight seem too gentle a description. The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Plan B's second outing -- released in regular and deluxe editions last spring -- is considerably lighter and more universal for it.

Despite its big soul sound, the album is far from being a suitable dinner party soundtrack. The Defamation… is a concept album about a fictional soul singer -- the Strickland Banks of the album's title -- wrongfully accused of raping a female fan and sent to prison as a result. The rapping has also been reduced significantly, with B's surprisingly gorgeous soul vocals taking center stage. A few plot patches give the album the effect of being the soundtrack to a gritty UK crime musical, one in which the spoken parts are obscure. The odd outburst of rap therefore serves as exposition, serving significant purpose on songs like "She Said" and "Darkest Place".

This expository tact works best on "Stay Too Long", a barnstormer that manages the unthinkable by giving rap-rock a fantastic name. The track is a stellar example of music matching the emotions conveyed in the lyrics, in this case chronicling a rowdy night out. The album is hugely successful at this conveyance throughout, particularly on "Welcome to Hell", which features a choir that both buoys and devastates the song. "Welcome to Hell" is also one of The Defamation of Strickland Banks's most cinematic moments. Although the album is crafted with enough accessibility in mind to assure that songs can easily be separated from the overlying concept, each song is married to specific images, whether they be of Strickland Banks resolving to wear a brave face as a form of defense on his slo-mo descent to his cell ("Welcome to Hell"), crouched in moments of introspection (the surprisingly uplifting "Hard Times"), or pleading his innocence in the court room ( the Smokey Robinson-esque "Free").

The Defamation of Strickland Banks's deluxe edition includes a few remixes and two bonus tracks -- "Verses" and "Spend My Money" -- which serve the same part as deleted scenes on a DVD; they fail to contribute much to the story, but prolong a completist's moment of joy. If 2011 proves to be a year in which promising artists get their due respects, then The Defamation of Strickland Banks will provide Plan B with a breach for US success. If we are extra lucky, a new regard for British rap may develop as well. Anyone enamored of nu-soul, strong story telling, and the darker side of British culture has already been rewarded.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.