If you were one of the one million people that bought 'Strickland Banks', then you might not be as eager to get your hands on this one; it doesn't contain the London- Soul sound he became so famous for, it's straight up harsh and unflinching hip-hop.
Early fans of Ben Drew were disappointed by Plan B's 'Strickland Banks' era, disappointed that his debut album 'Who Needs Actions When You Got Words?' had been pretty much abandoned and forgotten. Thankfully, Drew is back making the music he was six years ago, and now it's bigger, more rounded and more mature. You get the sense that Plan B has been waiting ever since his debut album to make this album, wanting to prove that he can do it - and make it popular.
Album opener and title track 'Ill Manors' is a massive musical statemant. It's all orchestral strings and hammering break beats and it's generally very strong. Even though Drew seems to be satirising himself and the culture his film revolves around, his lyrics are still a little juvenile. He mentions David Cameron, Broken Britain and the hook of the chorus, "What you looking at you little rich boy?” tends to stick in the throat, mainly because it's these 'little rich boys' that will be buying the album.
The petty brashness of 'Ill Manors' is followed by the calming and intelligent influence of 'I Am The Narrator'. Again, it features a string sample, but this time it's subdued and stands as a strong platform for Drew's lyrics, an introduction to the full narrative of the album. "Are you sitting comfortable? Because you're in for a harrowing ride." The track begins and ends with audio clips from the film, and as someone who hasn't seen it, it's hard to gleam what exactly is going on. It'not like this is Scooby Snacks, and we know that it's Pulp Fiction at the start, 'Ill Manors' is interspersed with vague and tactically grim snippets from the film, they serve to add little to the story of the album, and if anything just confuse the listener.
The first of plan B's big name collaborators on the album is Labrinth, on track 'Playing with Fire'. It's a weak attempt at big stadium hip-hop and it's just a bit flat. Each song is dedicated to a different character or event from the film, and if I was the character 'Playing with Fire' was based on, I'd be a bit miffed. Just quickly, I don't get Labrinth's appeal. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I don't understand why he's so big right now.
It isn't until 'Deepest Shame' that Drew excercise's the singing talent he's become so famous for. However cast aside his rapping, his soul voice is weak and seems strained. Like a kid missing a penalty in training in order to avoid playing on Sunday, I get the sense Drew has done this on purpose, wanting to leave his image of the soul singing turf-baron war-lord well and truly behind. But I'm a cynic.
Drew recently said that he was too white for black radio, and too black for white radio. 'Ill Manors' just seems to be too bleak for ANY form of broadcast. lyrically and musically it's generally brilliant, but if you're main topic of conversation is "racist cu**s", Dumb sluts sucking dick and heroin addict prostitutes, then it's not going to be Radio 2's album of the week is it? The strongest example of this harrowing vision, is 'Pity the Plight', a deeply graphic track that tells the story of a boy forced to stab someone to death as initiation into manhood. The track features extensive clips from said scene in the film, and it descends to a point where it's hard to listen to. If it wasn't for John Cooper Clarke's (surreally placed) poetry, it would be truly inedible.
'Ill Manors' is a ghastly, sparse odyssey, and although at times it is hard to stomach, it is a fantastic collection of sonic stories. Yes, the audio clips from the film are confusing, and yes the lyrics are petty at times, but Drew has created the album that should have been the successor to 'Who Needs Actions', completely overshadowing the pandering sound of 'Strickland Banks'.
The launch party of 'Ill Manors' takes place on Monday night, and will feature performances from all the collaborators, alongside Plan B himself. It's going to be streamed live via Youtube, so catch it if you get the chance.