We’re not yet half way through the year, but it’s probably safe to say this is the best blue-eyed northern soul concept album of 2010. That’s not only because it’s a rarefied genre, to say the least, but also because The Defamation of Strickland Banks is very decent.
A lot of people who heard Plan B’s previous effort, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, his 2006 debut, are in for a surprise. Gone are the foul-mouthed raps about junkies, underage sex, urban decay and unprovoked murders, all set to sparse beats and acoustic guitar.
In their place are driving, late-Sixties Detroit sounds and gutsy falsetto vocals – although the grim subject matter remains. The album (and accompanying movie) tells the sale of the eponymous Strickland. Finding himself in a crumbling relationship he goes out for a big night with the lads, gets wrecked, and pulls some lass who falsely accuses him of rape.
Our man gets sent down, to his horror, and holes up in his cell for fear of having his lungs beaten out through his arse. But he can’t avoid his assailants for ever and ends up killing a fellow inmate in self-defence. Wracked with guilt, he prays for forgiveness, but receives none – so he comes to the conclusion that God is a “made-up, fictional character”.
Young Mr Banks’s journey down throws up musical highlights aplenty. Many wouldn’t have seemed out of place at Wigan Casino back in the day. The Recluse, Traded in My Cigarettes and the single Stay Too Long (surely one the tracks of the year) are banging, with just enough potty-gobbed raps to connect the tracks with their predecessors.
Does Strickland find redemption, embrace liberty and be reconciled with his missus? That remains to be seen; the album ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. It matters little: when the tunes are this good, he could be bummed to death by the nonces in B Wing and we’d still have ourselves a crackin’ platter.