Album Review: Mongrel

Better Than Heavy

Facts about this album:

* Mongrel is rapper Lowkey, Andy Nicholson (ex of Arctic Monkeys), Jon McLure and Joe Moskow of Reverend And The Makers, plus Babyshambles guitarist Drew McConnell.

* ‘Better Than Heavy’ was produced by Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound, best known for his work with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.

* Mongrel released ‘Better Than Heavy’ free through The Independent newspaper.

Album review:

In these times of confusing, diverse and instant information, where we drown in 24-hour news on tap, THIS JUST IN: apparently, George Bush is not the fine, upstanding chap we all thought he was. That’s the shocking revelation of ‘The Menace’, the only song tardier than Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You’ to jump on the Dubya-bashing bandwagon that rolled out of view around 2004. It’s so easy to mock, but John McClure deserves a bit better than our hatchets. When the world’s gone to fuck in a Ford Fiesta, he’s at least trying to bring some politics into pop with his ragtag troupe of rockers and rappers. Surely that’s better than nothing?

Well, let’s have a look-see: ‘Lies’ finds Lowkey getting MC on the MPs, with such cutting jibes as “you don’t like me, spin on this like Alastair Campbell”. Now, even allowing for the delay between recording and release, Alastair Campbell hasn’t been active in UK politics now for six years. “I swear down I won’t fail to get these answers/If I’m thrown in jail I want the same cell as Jeffrey Archer”, he continues. Jeffrey Archer? Oooh, topical. In 2001. You half-expect to come across a track berating Margaret Thatcher. Back on ‘The Menace’ he spits “this one’s for Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Chechnya/All those are parts of 9/11 in America”. Really? Pedantry, perhaps, but fuzzy fervour such as this (and waving ‘Free Palestine’ banners onstage) risks being nothing more than empty grandstanding.

Politics in pop is a fine, fine art, and while McClure can bleat on and on about how he’s the only person in music saying anything about the state of the world in the deluded, egomaniacal way we’ve come to know and love, the fact is, he’s not really saying that much, beyond ‘bad stuff is wrong’. He’s no Chuck D, no Richey Edwards, barely even a Zack De La Rocha. If all we have standing between us and the cartoon totalitarian state of The Rev’s visions is Citizen Smith and a collection of Black Grape B-sides, we really are fucked.

If you accept, though, that the soapbox student politics does little more than make the converted feel righteous, it’s an alright record. The skanking funk-hop-rock mash of ‘Hit From The Morning Sun’ is illuminated by Mpho’s muscular soul voice, but Tor Cesay is the revelation, her hard-faced, whipcrack, insolent raps nipping at the heels of the slow loping grooves like a Jack Russell. ‘Act Like That’, in which Purple, Kyza, No.Lay, Logic, Mic Righteous and many others let loose on gun culture with the real anger of people who’re talking about something that really, directly enrages them and declaring “fuck Lil Wayne” over a taut, crunky-funky moody, key-tickled lurk is impressive. Sad, then, that’s it followed by McClure’s nasal whine on ‘Julian’. We don’t think it’s massively regionalist and classist to say that Jon McClure has one of the most intensely annoying voices we’ve ever heard. He probably would, though. You start to feel the best thing he could have done for this project was to absent himself from it altogether. The multi-rapper pile-up of ‘Alphabet Assassins’ wows at every sharp turn, hampered only by McClure’s gormless, self-obsessed interjections: “journalistic jealousies/Got Jon jacking it in in January”. Jealousy? Yeah, my mam used to say that when I got picked on as well.

Even at best, though, something rings false about ‘Better Than Heavy’. It never sounds like a self-funded album made by angry people. It sounds like an album made by people who like listening to themselves being angry. Empty rhetoric, in other words.

Emily Mackay

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