14 February 2009

Mongrel - Better Than Heavy

A star-studded cast of The Rev Jon McClure, Andy Nicholson, Matt Helders, Drew McConnell, Jagz Kooner and Lowkey joined together to create Mongrel last year, which is, in their own words "a coalition of the willing. A force of nature based on musical artists who want to say something about the world they live in and be free of the merry go round of make record release make record release." The Kooks they are not. You've got to give them credit for having the balls to this kind of brave move especially when speaking out and super groups aren't exactly in vogue at the minute. Although it isn't commercial suicide for those involved, as there are enough hooks to reach a wide audience and even get into the charts. Even if that isn't the point of the album.

Despite this good cause, for the most part "Better Than Heavy" feels like being set upon by a group of right-on, left wing buskers in a dark alley. Opener "Barcode" is highly grating despite a very catchy chorus. "Lies" is an okay song but the point of it is nothing new, especially to anyone who's listened to a Bill Hicks routine ("The whole country is full of lies/you're all gonna die and die like flies/I don't trust you anymore or what you're saying") although it does have a great line in "Gordon Brown's a proper gangster". Somehow I can't imagine him in da ghetto wearing Boxfresh gear or even in Little Italy in 1930s NYC, but that'll probably do more for his yoof approval rating than any spin doctor.

"Hit From The Morning Sun" is quite bland considering it's the second single from the album, just a run-of-the-mill indie ska tune. There may be method in this madness but I can't see it. Debut single "The Menace" is a standout track, a great example of the band members individual talents, even if the sentiment of the track is nowt new. The eye-opening (well, for me anyways) "Art Like That" features a plethora of rappers, who I'm not even gonna pretend I know who they are, spitting more syllables in three minutes than I've said in the past week. As the album goes onto it's seventh track it mellows out and gets less in-your-face, but loses something. The remaining tracks are by no means poor; "Alphabet Assassins" in particular has a clever concept and turns out to be a great song. But the anger and vitirol suits Mongrel much better than the laid back ska-pop of album closer "All Your Ever Afters". Musically "Better Than Heavy" is spot on, mixing indie with rap and bits of reggae, dub and ska with great aplomb. But lyrically, McClure comes off as a little deluded and too right-on in some issues, which makes the album seem like a bit of a vanity project, one for him to say "I'm reet liberal and all that "voice of a generation" stuff, me". Still, it's better than another Reverend & The Makers album.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Barcode", "The Menace", "Art Like That", "Julian", "Better Them Than Us", "Alphabet Assassins"
FOR FANS OF: Public Enemy, The Clash, The Specials


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