Drew's 2006 debut, Who Needs Action When You Got Words, was a collection of angst-ridden rap tracks about the forgotten youth in today's society. It may have been met with a critical "meh", but as Drew recently told DS, he succeeded in making fans of those whose behaviour may otherwise have descended into the "ignorant and disgusting". Follow-up offering The Defamation Of Strickland Banks tells the story of the titular soul singer, a man sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit.
The stark contrast from his debut is revealed on album opener 'Love Goes Down', a slinky soul number that comes off smoother than a Nigel Havers chat-up line. This track also introduces Drew's falsetto vocals, which are packed with emotion as he sings himself smitten about young love. The romance is short-lived though, and as soon as track three Banks is out boozing with his mates. A guitar-driven cut which climaxes with a bout of breathless and angry rapping, 'Stay Too Long' is initially perplexing but, once you get to grips with the musical juxtaposition, utterly compelling.
However, the album's catchiest moment comes next - in the form of current chart-botherer 'She Said'. As Banks stands trial for crimes against loving and leaving, his cockney-style rapping dovetails with the jazzy, '40s-style backing to spectacular effect. It's followed by 'Welcome To Hell', which sees Banks found guilty and sent down to live among "murderers, robbers and rapists". The addition of a gospel choir heightens the drama here, with Drew chanting on the fade-out: "Put my brave face on / Can't let them know that I'm scared." It's moving stuff.
Having grappled with his demons, Banks shines again on 'Traded In My Cigarettes', a welcome pick-me-up after a deluge of depressive - and often unconvincing - songs about prison life lodged in the album's centre. The mood has lightened considerably by the time we reach album closer 'What You Gonna Do', which finds Banks in the docks for a second time. "You can cut me loose / Or you can bang me up / But to tell you the truth / I don't really give a f**k," he proclaims. Sadly, it's not unconceivable that less patient listeners may be feeling much the same way by this point.
Like any good story, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks has a strongly-defined beginning, middle and end. While the former and latter are encapsulated nicely in glossy soul-pop ditties, the action suffers in the all-important middle, where empathy for Banks begins to wane amidst one too many Shawshank-style tales of life in the slammer. However, this isn't enough to sink a record that succeeds in breathing new life into an over-crowded genre, establishing Plan B as one of modern soul's leading lights in the process.
> Click here to read our recent interview with Plan B