2 of 3 thought this review was well written
Addressing your prospective listeners as “you f*cking c*nts”, as Plan B did with the first lines of his abrasive debut album, is probably not a guaranteed route to success. And so it proved with the general public showing themselves strangely resistant to his musical overtures, despite some critical acclaim. This second album sees him ditch for the main part his rap and acoustic guitar persona to reveal instead that Plan B has soul.
It’s a spectacularly brazen change of direction that reeks of sellout. It’s one thing to chase commercial success via the guise of pop music. We’re not supposed to take that
too seriously. But a soul singer? Surely soul relies on authenticity above all else. Think of Smokey Robinson or Levi Stubbs. The names themselves seem to evoke mystical legends hailing from whisky-fuelled ghettoes. Not some white, middle class, twenty-something, East London chancer.
What makes this even more risible is that it is a concept album about, yawn, an innocent man who is sent to prison. And if you’re looking for some genuine insight, forget it. “I'm in the darkest place and I don't just mean this jail/in my mind there's a darkest space trapped in an even darker cell” (Darkest Place
) is about as deep as it gets. Ben Drew (aka Plan B) has also loftily intimated that this soundscape is to be documented in an accompanying film, although no official production or release has occurred to my knowledge. It could have been worse, it was originally intended to be a double album, before the record company managed to persuade him that that would be a bridge too far.
But here’s my rather feeble antonym denouement: this is great. Soul music, for all its association with pain and anguish, is essentially feel-good music. These thirteen songs are suffused with all manner of velvety sumptiousness, interludes of horns (saxophones, trumpets and trombones), strings (violins and cello) and stomping bass lines lifting us up; whilst the outbursts of rap bring us back down with a grainy, grimy realism, lending a testerone-fuelled edge that takes us well away from the middle of the road cosyness of say Simply Red or The Commitments.
For all my quibbling about sellout, commercialism, authenticity, blah blah blah, just listen to that aching croon of a voice. Any of these songs could feature on a best of Motown compilation and not just the three singles (Stay Too Long
, She Said
) that have stormed the UK’s top ten either. From the mellow reflections of opener Love Goes Down
to the plaintive brooding of Hard Times
to the saccharine exuberance of Free
, there is barely a misstep. Tucked away on the second side is the orchestrated cathartism of I Know A Song
, surely the future single that will yet propel Plan B into the stratosphere of mainstream consciousness.
An actor, who does rap, soul, concept albums, Plan B is some kind of artistic chameleon. His next project will probably be a death metal album. He'll probably be good at that too.