Plan B – ill Manors LP
The soundtrack to his directorial debut of the same name, ill Manors sees Ben Drew abandon the radio-friendly soul-pop that put 2010’s The Defamation of Strickland Banks in your parents’ in-car CD players. Rather, his latest LP sees a return to Plan B the rapper, with the aim of striking out at the current political regime and providing an outlet for his loud voice of protest – it’s unlikely to find its way into a hatchback on a family outing.
For the most part, the album consists of angst-laden narratives aided by relevant sound-bites from the film. This is most effective in the harrowing John Cooper Clarke featuring ‘Pity the Plight’, in which a melancholic piano track is at one point interrupted by the sound of a brutal stabbing scene, with no holding back on the screams, tears and blood. As you’ll have figured then, it’s not for the faint hearted – the theme of the album is woven together by lyrics mainly depicting drug-induced destruction, whilst frequently becoming an aggressive assault on the middle-classes that Drew perceives to be ignorant towards the plight of those in desperate situations.
The forceful and antagonistic chorus of “Oi! What you looking at you little rich boy?” on the title track sees Drew establishing his political stance early on; there’s frequent government baiting as he looks to deliver on his promise to be the first protest singer of the 21st Century (his words) so, as you’d expect, there are plenty of disdaining references to David Cameron and a few derisive deliveries of the term Broken Britain thrown in for good measure. While the aggression in Drew's delivery helps get his point across, in amongst the orgy of political punches being thrown there is some impressive and original musicianship on display. Lost My Way blends danceability and melancholia to suggest a soul song lost in a haunted building. Playing With Fire (ft. Labrinth) is the most tender track on the album; the use of an acoustic guitar almost sending it into singer/songwriter territory – even if the chorus does sound like it was stuck on in-between fag breaks.
The main problem for an aspiring social-commentator/working-class hero like Drew is that he’s written a political record that rarely has anything new to say. He plays all of his cards in the aforementioned title track; an intelligent, witty and genuinely interesting take on the way youth is portrayed in our country’s tabloids. But the problem is he rarely sounds as relevant over the course of the remaining 11 tracks. Often he appears to just be regurgitating the kind of insight you'd more normally see in BBC3 documentaries over the last couple of years. While there's no doubting he does care about the plight of those he writes about, Drew’s ‘boy from the estate’ patter becomes tiresome pretty quickly, often seeing him just making excuses for his target market (blame the coalition, blame the parents, just don’t blame the kids!) rather than proposing solutions. Essentially, he frequently bottles it, and as a result his lyrics often lack substance.
After the sixth or seventh newsflash about how bad drugs are it all starts to ring a little hollow and you start to wonder whether, rather than seeking to speak out for a nation of disenchanted youths, Drew is merely seeking to capture their mood for his own personal gain. Yes, it is a positive thing that someone is at least trying to revive the protest song in the 21st Century, but Ill Manors has the faint but definite stench of opportunism.
Words by Lewis Parker