Plan B: Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose review – Drew's fourth searches for template


Finally Ben Drew’s fourth album becomes actual rather than imminent: he was trailing it in the Guardian 11 months ago, when he was talking it up as an “art statement”, and he premiered much of it at a one-off London show last summer.

The single In the Name of Man, released in May 2017, doesn’t appear on the album, and Heartbeat, which does, peaked at No 100 last autumn. All of which suggests what is euphemistically known as “a troubled gestation”.

It’s not surprising Drew wanted to take time over his first album since 2012. After all, his career has been marked by distinctly different and perfectly executed phases: sink-estate horror rapper, sharp-suited soul man, chronicler of modern Britain. The good news is that Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose doesn’t stand still. Drew is singing again, not rapping, and he dips into dancehall, R&B, drum’n’bass, gospel testifying and as many more styles as you can shake a stick at. The bad news is that the amount of time he’s spent seems to have made him unsure of his identity. There’s neither the comforting familiarity of The Defamation of Strickland Banks, nor the confrontational abrasiveness of Ill Manors. It feels as though he’s trying to split the difference between them.

Lyrically, too, Drew seems less focused. It’s not that he’s shying away from big themes, more that the themes are too big for him to bring his gift for specificity to bear, so he ends up offering platitudes: “The situation worsens while we wait for things to change / Cause the ones we expect to put things right / Are the real ones here to blame,” suggests the title track. It’s all a bit think-about-it-yeah; he can be so much better.


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Plan B review – limp comeback for would-be bard of modern soul
Ben Drew’s surefooted rap flow and melodic falsetto is used in conservative material that rings hollow in a venue unsuited to furious guitars

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

25, Jul, 2017 @1:10 PM

Article image
Plan B; Clare Maguire – review
Plan B's reinvention as a fictional soul singer is utterly convincing, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

09, Oct, 2010 @11:06 PM

Article image
Plan B – review

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Ben Drew looks as ever like a man on the verge of starting a ruck with his own band, writes Ian Gittins

Ian Gittins

31, Jul, 2012 @2:00 PM

Black Star Riders: All Hell Breaks Loose – review
The Lynott-less incarnation of Thin Lizzy is best when it sticks to tried-and-tested template, writes Michael Hann

Michael Hann

23, May, 2013 @9:20 PM

Article image
Plan B: Ill Manors – review

Ben Drew graduates to a new level with these ferocious yet compassionate dispatches from the British underclass, writes Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

21, Jul, 2012 @11:04 PM

Article image
Plan B review – Bard boy makes good
The Globe proves an inspired backdrop for Ben Drew’s dramatic live return, complete with gremlins and groundlings

Kitty Empire

30, Jul, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Plan B | Pop review

Cafe de Paris, London
There is one thing more remarkable than Plan B's smokey-souled reinvention of himself - and that is that it actually works, writes Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

21, Jan, 2010 @10:00 PM

Article image
Ava Max: Heaven & Hell review – turbo-charged 2010s pop joy
Back to the era of prime Gaga and Katy Perry with nailed-on melodies and high-wire vocals - this album is determined to entertain

Michael Cragg

18, Sep, 2020 @7:30 AM

Article image
David Ward on the Spanish Misteri d'Elx festival

Fireworks, floating angels and music that ranges from plainsong to baroque ... the Spanish Misteri d'Elx festival is a two-day glimpse of paradise, says David Ward.

David Ward

05, Oct, 2006 @11:03 PM

Plan B, Islington Academy, London

Islington Academy, London

Sophie Heawood

31, Mar, 2006 @11:16 PM