Cafe De Paris, London Wednesday, January 20
By now you’re probably aware of the ‘he’s got soul, he used to be a suburban solider’ pitch. Yep, [a]Plan B[/a], who, charmingly, used to “talk morbid just to make you feel awkward”, has replaced his uncompromising STDs’n’violence obsessed Bluewater B-boy schtick with the kind of auntie-pleasing soul sound that [a]Amy Winehouse[/a] and [a]Mark Ronson[/a] successfully dredged back into public consciousness in ’06. Bold move and all that, but has he not missed the boat? We’re a touch concerned, but as soon as Ben Drew opens his glorious gob, it’s obvious we needn’t be. Showing off a falsetto that owes as much to the flamboyant ’90s flair of David McAlmont and Terence Trent D’Arby as it does to Marvin Gaye, set opener ‘Writings On The Wall’ is a straight-up classic which makes it hard to believe Drew made his name spitting bile and fury rather than sweet grooves.
“Tonight is gonna be purely soul and nothing else,” Drew warns the crowd, not once delving into his back catalogue and only diverging from the new numbers with ‘Coming Up Easy’, a largely inspiring used car-dealer funk cover of a, er, [a]Paolo Nutini[/a] song.
If Drew had been wearing a suit when he’d first arrived on the scene, we’d have assumed it was because he was on his way to court, but now, crooning black and blue-eyed soul – which works best when it features roughed-up rap breakdowns like on ‘She Said’ and ‘Stay Too Long’ – his polished patina fits.
Yet there is cause for concern, like the moments he veers dangerously close to drippy, Magic FM territory (‘I Know A Song’, ‘Love Goes Down’). When that happens the whole evening seems like an extended episode of The X Factor, complete with made-for-TV razzle-dazzle in the shape of backing singers in camp Jackie O shades and Drew taking time to pimp the Strickland Banks cocktails available at the bar. That said, as reinventions go, this is one plan that certainly seems to have promise.