As much a movie score as a straight album, Plan B’s third album is full of ambience and fluency that developed from The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, his coming of age – at least musically. The title track and lead single opens the record with an archaic arrangement of orchestral instruments, staggered tempo and a subject matter which makes uneasy listening. An observation on life in the less than glamorous estates in London, it provides the descent for each of the characters featured both here and in the film.
The record is best encompassed by ‘Lost My Way’, genuinely one of the most harrowing songs featured on any Plan B album. The honest articulation of social problems is the essence of iLL Manors and although there is a stark vulgarity, not through obscenity but in keeping with the narrative of each song. Comparisons will be made to his earlier releases, especially in the sense of menace throughout. For fans of the soul sound of his previous work, this appears to offer something different; darker themes, highlighted with equally eerie instrumentation. While the album focuses on street crime and the means by which some survive, it never seeks to excuse the violence and habits – only illuminate it further.
There are some strong collaborations. ‘Playing With Fire’, featuring Labrinth, showers an effects laden chorus and a tender approach to vocals, more reminiscent of spoken word poetry than rap. ‘Pity The Plight’ veteran allows punk poet John Cooper Clark to reign atop Plan B’s musical interpretation of his own words; a poem which he described as “the view of young people from a jaundiced old twat’s point of view”.
At times sound bites of conversation from the movie work and encourage intensity and rage offset with the narrator’s perspective, at other points it seems irrelevant and would do better to have been left in the film. Just as Strickland Banks was its own concept, so too is iLL Manors; rich in characters and unforgiving tales. It is simply, a relentless barrage of social critique on “Cameron’s broken Britain” and all the more powerful for it.