Plan B: Ill Manors (Atlantic Records)
Out Now

Ben Drew’s Ill Manors soundtrack was, of course, one of the albums selected in the Mercury prize shortlist earlier in the week. Therefore, now seems an apposite time for us to review it dontcha think? Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham is our man doing the honours.

Ill Manors is the third album from Ben Drew, the artist otherwise known as Plan B. I first saw him on television years ago during the NME awards, rapping with an acoustic guitar, bleak and brutal. I next saw him in Adulthood and suddenly he was everywhere with ”˜The Deformation of Strickland Banks’ smooth suited and booted soul with a dark edge to the lyrics and a huge hit. He was the lout in Harry Brown, and the voice of the dispossessed when rioting razed across London’s inner city.

He said after Strickland Banks he was making a hip hop record. It turned into a film (trailer below) and a soundtrack album about the sink estates in London, the hopeless and lost people living there. It’s dark, well it’s hardly going to be sunshine and green meadows is it? It’s a hard listen and right on the edge. From the chorus of the first song ”˜OI! I SAID OI!’ to the fragmented drum and bass at the end of ”˜Falling Down’ it drags you in kicking and screaming. Ben Drew is an artist of the times and a reflection of where he came from and where many kids and families still exist.

”˜Ill Manors’ drags you down straight away, the spiralling strings giving it a cinematic feel, the beats reminiscent of The Prodigy who have remixed the track for the single release. It’s a confrontation for everyone expecting an easy listen, political and scathing. Take from the rich, you are what you own.

”˜I Am The Narrator’, starts with an audio clip from the film with the police wanting a word. Then shouting in Patois over a descending beat, dense and compact, the rapper watches and relates what he sees; no judgement just social commentary. It ends with the sound of someone being processed into custody.

Drug Dealer has a ragga chorus of ”˜Mr Drug Dealer’. Is a story about how a kid grows up and becomes what his environment dictates. Racism, violence, drugs, abuse and hopelessness. There’s no glamour, no hope and no light. Plan B raps with an angry, hard voice, clear and straight to your head. It ends with an audio clip from the film about violence for weed over a rolling piano piece.

Playing With Fire, how gangs mess up and drag down young kids. How they want to belong and when they do it’s too late. Being just a kid is no way out.’ Just another poster boy for David Cameron’s broken Britain.’

The vocals on Deepest Shame reflect the soul singers from the sixties, it’s sad and lush and hits you right at the heartstrings. It’s the lament for a crack addicted woman, and the only way to go is down. The rap is short and understated, almost flat sounding, just sad.

Pity The Plight, a gentle piano repeats as Plan B hands over to John Cooper Clarke, who some might say he is heir to, talking of pity and then Plan B talking about revenge again. Cut in are scenes from the film, audio snippets of brutality and despair.

”˜Lost My Way’ (above) is built around a blues loop, speeded up and distorted. Plan B relates how kids have no reason to believe they can get out of the spiral of decay and hopelessness that is the estates they live and die in. ”˜If you don’t believe in something then you’ll fall for anything’ It ends with a prostitute trying to make a deal as her baby cries in the background.

The Runaway is about sex slavery, running away from the business. Pregnant and alone with no place to turn, except back to the game.

Great Day For A Murder starts with a sweet soul voice relating how it’s a great day for murder and vengeance but how that isn’t the way. Plan B crashes in over metallic guitar and sampled shouts angry and hard, ready to kill. The way anger will take over when that’s what you know and expect.

The lush piano sound that starts Live Once and the gospel sound of ”˜Everything Will Be Okay’ which smooths into a sweet female vocal leading into Plan B telling you that you are no different to anyone else and to believe in your dreams and how you can change. Telling you to think about what you think about the poor. Look forward and have hope.

Falling Down is horror film soundtrack music and a creepy, mentally unhinged Ben Drew descending into his own personal hell. Getting himself up and being knocked back down all the time, over and over. It segues into a low key drum and bass finish.

The words I repeat over and over are hopeless and despair. It’s a grey concrete nightmare. The dispossessed and forgotten in Broken Britain. Plan B mixes soul singing, raga patois and brilliantly crafted beats behind the songs. A damning message from the council estates and lost places. An utterly compelling album from the dark corners of England.

All words by Adrian Bloxham. You can read more from Adrian on LTW here.


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