And this is in the UK top 10, so…
John Seroff: Some years ago I saw Plan B playing a live solo guitar set that lifted liberally and equally from both The Streets and Dylan to good effect. It’s a savvy move to reposition him as blue-eyed sou,l as he carries that tune with sincerity and aplomb in this take on “Billie Jean”. I only wish there was something more memorable about the track; it fades from the palate a little too quickly to be really noteworthy.
Martin Skidmore: I actually quite like his singing on this, which I haven’t before – he sounds sort of soulful, and very feminine. The strings are nice too, as is his rapping, but the song is thin and more or less stops in one or two places, and my knowledge that this is part of some kind of rock opera concept album doesn’t help me love it.
Iain Mew: UK readers may be familiar with the current TV adverts for Barclays bank in which they show on screen a hackneyed metaphor for the great things they will do with your money, while a voiceover dissects the ad in an offhand way. The idea apparently being that just by acknowledging your lack of ideas in a meta manner, it suddenly becomes excusable and even clever. In reality, the attempt to have it both ways is excruciating. Why do I mention this? Well, there’s this bit in this song where Plan B chooses to rap about how his situation is “like that song by The Zutons, Valerie”. Presumably because “like that song by Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse, Valerie” wouldn’t scan.
Ian Mathers: I should have known that as I grew to like “Stay Too Long” Plan B would find some way to screw it up. Too much falsetto, too much story I don’t care about (and that doesn’t really make sense out of whatever context it’s supposed to be in), too much musical restraint. I’m not sure we needed a Streets that wants to be Robin Thicke.
Alfred Soto: Adam Levine, meet string section.
Frank Kogan: Where Curtis Mayfield was ethereal and devastating, this guy is a rough placeholder, a mundane fellow singing high, on a tune that you’d really have expected to go to an anguished bellower like Levi Stubbs; give it a bit of garage-rock coarseness, and somehow the result is as touching and forceful as if Plan B could actually sing. I was solidly ignoring him around the time of Run The Road; now he’s pulled off two improbable successes in a row, so maybe it’s time to go back and figure him out. The mundanity is probably a shtick, but it’s one he knows how to work.
Alex Ostroff: Anything attached to the Northern Soul revival is guaranteed to elicit some skepticism on my part, but Plan B has a smooth upper register and a nimble tongue on the mic. And if his talent weren’t sufficiently intriguing, his previous incarnation as an Eminem-esque figure who rapped about crack and necrophilia certainly would be. Or his forthcoming soul-rap concept album about fame, crime and the justice system. The rapped interlude about a femme fatale and a murder trial is sort of left-field absent context, but somehow it all hangs together. I have no idea whether The Defamation of Strickland Banks will be brilliant or muddled and overambitious, but he’s clearly talented and unconcerned with convention and practicality, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Michaelangelo Matos: Pleasant the way most throwback soul-pop is pleasant, but docked a notch for Ronsonist overkill.