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Plan B, ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’ (Atlantic)

British film actor Ben Drew became one of last year’s major U.K. breakouts when his hardscrabble rapping persona Plan B morphed into Amy Winehouse’s bespoke male counterpart on this pop-soul opera. As he tells this first-person tale of a singer who lands in jail after a fan falsely accuses him of rape, Drew’s falsetto strains to equal his Motown heroes. But the melodramatic tunes masterfully push up against the antihero’s downward narrative spiral, making Defamation the rare contemporary album that insists on being heard in full, in sequence, until the story ends.