We may never know what actually happened to the once great bastion of hip-hop in the Northwest, Grand Central Records. Set up by Mark Rae of Rae & Christian and putting out a couple of the best pre-dubstep UK instrumental hip-hop collections including Aim's Cold Water Music and Fingathing's The Main Event and Superhero Music, they were a shining light of the Northern rap scene, eventually collapsing in the early 2000s amid rumours of unpaid MCPS royalties running into thousands of pounds.

Mercury Rising is released on the Night Time Stories label, and sees Mark Rae and Steve Christian call on a cornucopia of guest vocalists to lend their various styles to a baffling mish-mash of electro pop, house and archaic rap.

Case in point is 'Check The Technique', an overlong backing track with a few lazy scratches (presumably by Jazzy Jeff) that sound like they were phoned in one-handed while he used the other, and most of his concentration, to complete a lengthy tax return. The track is an awkward reminder of the production duo's golden years circa 1998 and Northern Sulphuric Soul. While that album roped in then-hot Jungle Brothers and Jeru the Damaja, the guest interactions on Mercury Rising are more atrophied.

So instead of the Jungle Brothers, we get hubbies Ed Harcourt and Gita Langley taking a track each. The Harcourt effort 'The Ballad of Roza Shanina' would be absolutely fine as one of his b-sides, minus the winsome, token beats. There is a moment when a 'Careless Whisper' saxophone solo would actually liven things up a little, but the opportunity is missed and the track instead meanders towards becoming a worthy inclusion on a Next shop soundtrack album.

Gita Langley's 'Still Here' is as cosy as you can imagine and is the sort of thing that makes Johnny Flynn look edgy and British Sea Power look like Can. Langley's sugary, Corrs-like contribution has tonal echoes of the 7-and-a-half-minute long track that precedes it, '1975', in which Tunng offshoot Diagrams succeed in driving a wedge between the relatively respectable notion of modern folktronica and the nightmarish vision of Natalie Imbruglia fronting Groove Armada for an acoustic-house project, falling down on the abominable side with some ill-considered synthesized marimba. The mind boggles.

The album is dusted with more than its fair share of questionable lyrical couplets. The unused Robbie Williams b-side 'Travis', which seems to be about an unmade Emilio Estevez movie featuring a monkey who finds his way to Hollywood seeking fame and fortune, contains the unforgettable line: "Hollywood likes a monkey / do you think he'll like it too?"

Highlights come in the shape of the not entirely awful 'Dancr', in which Mel Uye Parker finally adds something approaching relevance to the proceedings, struggling manfully with a paisley funky house backing to some acclaim, and the surprisingly fun 'Happy' featuring someone called Mark Foster, who apparently is in a band called Foster The People. They have a track on Fifa.

For all its absentmindedness, the album does at least make one hark back to the glory days of Northern Sulphuric Soul. Returning to that album, however, is not a salutary experience. Half-remembered as a groundbreaking contribution to the UK's nu-soul flowering, it's still enjoyable if you can put aside the vast home-grown creative outpouring of that hateful blanket term, Urban Music, since the renaissance that began roughly at the turn of the millennium.