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Harry Harland (Plan B – Ill Manors)

Plan B’s third studio album was released on Monday, following on the coat-tails of the film bearing the same name.

“You’re in for a harrowing ride”, he promises on superb scene-setting introductory track I am the Narrator. He’s not lying. From start to finish, this album is about as lyrically bleak as anything you will have listened to in the last decade. Each song, a tragic tale of gang killings, drug dealing or prostitution, tied in with hard-hitting dialogue from the film. The Defamation of Strickland Banks, with its scenes of mere prison beatings and the odd rape charge is child’s play in comparison.

It doesn’t sound like particularly easy listening, does it? In fact, you would be forgiven for questioning why on earth anyone would want to hear such lurid songs at all. The answer is that, in terms of musical quality, this might be the best album that you listen to this year.

Plan B has fully returned to the gritty rap style that his career started with, but has retained the production values that he displayed on Strickland Banks. The results are astonishing.

Drug Dealer (below), a song about a kid growing up with a slag of a mother and getting assaulted by a “racist c*nt” before becoming a dealer (that old chestnut…), is absolutely phenomenal. There are quality cameos too, from Kano on Live Once and punk poet John Cooper Clarke on the sublime-yet-punchy Pity The Plight. Ironically, the songs with the most uneasy subject matter are, in my opinion, the best musically. I’m not sure if it was intended as so, but there are times when you feel that only the disturbing lyrics are preventing this from becoming a huge commercial success.

Coming just a month after I reviewed the title-tracked single, it may feel like a bit of a love-in for Trivial Pursuits and Plan B, but if he continues to put out material of this quality, there is no artist in England that I’d rather write about.