Monday, 10 February 2003

Album Review: Original Pirate Material

Garage music is supposed to be what British musicians do best. The likes of the So Solid Crew, Ms Dynamite, Craig David and DJ Luck have garnered massive success in this country and are breaking ground across the Atlantic. In light of this it seems strange then that all the aforementioned artists borrow so heavily from the US hip hop scene.

Enter 21-year-old Mike Skinner aka The Streets, the perfect antidote to the US hip hop imitators, and the most original voice in music for years. In Skinner we have an artist more concerned with cups of tea and second hand Vauxhall Nova's than bottles of Kristal and £100,000 Bentleys.

What we're dealing with here is an album that borrows from UK garage and the all-night garage in equal measure. It's dark, heartbreaking and witty at the same time and a near-perfect depiction of inner city life for a twenty-something bloke. Tales of ordinary life (being hopelessly skint, getting drunk and getting dumped) are set to a range of innovative backing tracks. Has It Come To This? the lead single, sets the tone with Mike Skinner narrating on "a day in the life of a geezer" to a two-step garage beat. Meanwhile, Let's Push Things Forward encapsulates Skinner's manifesto perfectly with the line, "This ain't your archetypal street sound."

Elsewhere, we are treated to a mad weekend in Amsterdam on Too Much Brandy and a beguiling assault on the UK Government's stance on cannabis legalisation on The Irony Of It All. Perhaps the standout track though is the incendiary Don't Mug Yourself, not since Kurt Cobain led America's youth in the early nineties has isolation seemed so entertaining.

It isn't all beer and clubbing though. When Skinner wants us to listen he slows the pace and it's hard not to take notice. It's Too Late is a musical highpoint; a tale of lost love, it sounds like a musical update of Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy but includes the line "We first met through a shared view, she loved me and I did too." The album's climax, the aptly titled Stay Positive, finds Skinner in reflective mood and he reveals, "Because you're the same as I am, we all need our fellow man, we all need our Samaritan." It's this vulnerability than makes the album so endearing, Skinner is just like you or me and he's quick to point it out.

It's an album that you can listen to at home to get in the mood for a wild Saturday night, dance to in the club and equally, one that you can wake up to on a Sunday morning with a fry up in your nearby greasy spoon. In an age where manufactured pop stars rule the charts, Mike Skinner stands out as the true voice of the streets.

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