Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Mongrel - Better Than Heavy (Wall of Sound 2009)

Mongrel is Reverend of ‘and the Makers’ fame; Drew from Babyshambles; the original Artic Monkeys bassist; the actual Artic Monkeys drummer; badass UK rapper Lowkey and a few others, doing live hip-hop mixed with standard indie choruses, very polemical and political, a band seemingly born out of the amazing conscious work that Love Music Hate Racism, who seems to have brought this collective together. It’s all very worthy and well put together. Lowkey is now an electric MC. The drumming and basslines are incredible. So what’s the problem? The problem is, hip-hop in this country has been a running joke for years, full of kids stuck in 1990s New York rapping scientifically over badly constructred Diet Pete Rock beats. But there were a small group of live hip-hop bands who rocked the stage ridiculously, mixing reggae, hip-hop, indie/rock guitars/ funk, rapping and mad metal drumming... bands like Dirtburg, Imperial Leisure, Lazy Habits. What makes this more worthy? Well, the patronage of a few Monkeys helps, as does the vocal presence of Reverend. It’s a good project with some tight songs, all brimming with rage and energy and righteousness, but it’s nothing amazing, nothing new, and everytime Reverend Jon (didn’t he retire from music?) comes in with another generic indie chorus, with awkward rhymes and soundbites, it loses it’s snarl and bluster. Lowkey is articulate, passionate and full of fire. So are the other MCs- the interplay and back and forth of ‘Act Like That’, the fierce and fresh ‘Barcode’, all feature some badass rapping, angry and well-constructed, rhymes that Chuck D would patronise. Musically, it dips in and out of interest. The beautiful ‘Better Than Heavy’ has a lovely delayed Arabic mandolin echoing around some deep skanks and bottomless bass, sounding like a world town version of ‘Ghost Town’. The guitars of Drew from Babyshambles are subtle, not too overpowering or arpeggioed, more as a power device to lend the songs some gravitas. The sampling is light and funky too. It’s the bass and drums that make this album (and Lowkey) and on songs like ‘Alphabet Assassins’ and ‘Hits from the Morning Sun’ they really grind the songs into submission. The album ends on a duff downer with ‘Acts Like That’ which is two different songs, one is a typical ‘funky live hip-hop number’ the other is a weird Manic Street Preachers ballad chorus. Either way, you have to respect the intentions, which are incredibly worthy; the politics, which are truly diverse and right-on; and the love of hip-hop shown by this collective. Lowkey is brilliant throughout, truly magnetic and affable, emotive and well-poised. Unfortunately, for all his intentions, it’s Reverend Jon who ruins this album by giving it its playability factor in the indie crowds, generic whining indie choruses that never lift the songs into flight, rather they give them a plod factor. Which is a shame, because with the pedigree of this band, it has the potential to change worlds.


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