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MANIC STREET PREACHER

  • Steve Lamacq
  • 2 Mar 09, 01:45 PM

It is, if you'll excuse the shocking pun, a sign of the times that the debut album by Mongrel will arrive in the shops on Saturday, not in the racks of your local CD emporium, but at your local newsagent accompanying copies of The Independent.

It is the first time that a band's debut album has ever come free with a national newspaper. Although having said that, the Mongrel project is not without its (in)famous names. Fronted by motor-mouth Jon McClure of Reverend & The Makers, the band also features an ex-member of the Artic Monkeys (bassist Andy Nicholson) and a Babyshamble (Drew McConnell) in the line-up.

The album was recorded with McClure's own money and its release via the paper will be followed by a dub version of the record on Wall Of Sound - the label McClure is signed to.

All this would have seemed spectacularly radical five years ago, but apart from some theorising voices inside the industry, I suspect most people will merely nod and move on.

And that would be a shame really. This is not only a project which is obviously close to McClure's heart - it also establishes him as a man who is prepared to back up his words with actions (his off-the-cuff remark last year that he'd be retiring from the record business after a second Reverend & the Makers album was impetuous and ill-conceived, but otherwise he's been very true to his words).

reverendandthemakers.jpg

A champion of British hip hop, the album features more than 15 MCs and is a rhythmically angular mix of rock and hip hop. McClure meanwhile, with his Strummer-esque combat rock mohican haircut, appears to be evolving lyrically into rock's answer to Mark Thomas. You would probably be hard pushed to agree with all his straight-down-the-line political views, but I find his determination to open lines of debate fascinating (he has also recently re-opened the discussion over the lack of black artists on the cover of NME, which has been a bone of contention since I was working there in the late 80s and early 90s).

Out drinking with him after a recent edition of Roundtable on 6 Music, it's also clear that he's a man who likes 'starting fires' - he's like a social pyromaniac. He can't help himself. We discuss the NME cover, his forthcoming trip to Venezuela, the possibility of launching a new music magazine and inevitably the Mongrel record.

"Not enough people will hear it if we just put it out normally," he says. "I want people to hear it. So just give it away. Get it out there to as many people as you can. Let them make their own minds up."

Certainly it should do something to raise the profile of some of the MCs featured (including chief rapper Low Key) but it will also put The Rev himself back in the spotlight. Some critics have described him as 'a latter-day Billy Bragg' but I think he's too much of a rock anarchist to be a New Bragg.

Plus the media is a lot different now to when Bragg was at this stage of his career (when he was either a liberal God, or part of Kinnock's Loony Left, depending on where you stood).

But listening to The Rev, for nearly two hours, enthusing away about projects and plans which didn't include conquering America or spending ten grand on a remix or hyperventilating about the prospect of being Number Three in the Midweek Charts (or any of the other acceptably dull topics which pass for most aspiring bands' 'conversation') was both exciting and exhausting.

If nothing else, both the rapid-fire conversation and the covermount left me thinking that there are alternative ways around what has been quite a stale start to the year, commercially speaking ( I was reminded of this again, as I left the BBC on Friday night to the accompanying strains of U2 playing somewhere on a roof above me).

The Mongrel album might not be the best record in the world (it is illuminating, energetic and often a little clumsy or forced) but it is certainly more of a statement than 99 per cent of the new releases you'd have to pay for this week.

LAMACQ'S LIVENERS

KAP BAMBINO - Red Sign (terrific fuzzy-edged electro single on Because Records)
LOW ANTHEM - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin LP (Low Anthem)
MONGREL - Better Than Heavy LP (The Independent)
PARACHUTE MEN - If I Could Wear Your Jacket (1989 Fire Records single)
JO GILLOT - Little Bit Of Zen (Demo)

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