It’s been a long time since I’ve discovered an album so good I have to pace my listens and try not to wear it out.
I guess I didn’t really discover The Streets. This hyper friend who loves music more than me is always like, “Have you heard this, or this?” And I’m always like, “No, but I’ll bet I’m about to.”
He kept me up until the butt crack of dawn had shut one summer morn playing The Streets debut, Original Pirate Material. Initially, I saw it for what it was: some low-key, two-step garage (a sped-up R&B beat, basically) with a thickly accented white Brit lazily “spittin'” lyrics – lots of lyrics – alternating with a few simple but catchy choruses.
It took a couple listens to get used to the accent and jargon (think “Trainspotting”) but The Streets, aka 22-year-old Mike Skinner, have straight-up one of the best albums in a long time about being a young, working-class bloke. The Who, Nirvana and countless rock bands channeled the angst-meets-ecstasy paradox of life well. Some early hip-hop channeled it and now The Streets are all over it in a style that’s not played-out (at least not in America).
Critics are calling the Mercury Prize-nominated Original Pirate Material the next evolutionary leap for British music and the first bonafide UK garage long player. It’s been compared to Tricky’s Maxinquaye and a butt-load of other classics. But, bottom-line, it’s damn fun to listen to.
A working-class kid from Birmingham, Skinner took a break from clubbing and Play Station marathons to chill in Australia, where OPM began to take shape.
“My music is about the garage scene away from London,” Skinner says. “Garage is a club thing, a raving thing … For me, when I was in Birmingham, just after traveling, it was an in-car and at-home thing.”
In other words, don’t expect hyped up anthems. The sound, while almost as up-tempo as any garage, is indeed laid back. It’s head-bobbing sing-along music for Joe Everykid and anyone else who’s been right there.
Skinner’s distance from the “scene” has shaped his music and given him perspective to grasp the paradoxical dichotomies of life. Like any conscious person who deals with life would, Skinner can celebrate and criticize his lifestyle in the same breath. He’ll spit tongue in cheek about being tough, talk about quitting vices and celebrate the fun of abuse. He channels the pleasure, pain and confusion of relations with the opposite sex, and even stages a hilarious argument between a drunken geezer (your basic frat boy) and a brainy stoner college student.
Then there’s the pleasure-pain paradox of a night on Ecstasy, channeled on the only house cut, “Weak Become Heroes”: “They could settle wars with this/If only they will, imagine the world’s leaders on pills then imagine the morning after/Wars causing disaster don’t talk to me I don’t know ya … All of life’s problems I just shake off … The weak become heroes then the stars align.”
Some people don’t feel The Streets, but for anyone who’s walked these fine lines and are still upright, it’s always good to hear a reminder that we’re in this together. I’ll play this ’til it melts, or until someone else can get it this right.