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The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free (2004) March 3, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
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The Streets: A Grand Don't Come for Free

The Streets: A Grand Don’t Come for Free

I first heard the Streets’ first album, Original Pirate Material, back in 2004, but it didn’t really grab me at the time. (It did eventually.) But the second album, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, was getting a lot of positive buzz. I listened to a bit of it in a local record store and bought it then and there. It’s been a favourite of mine and Laura’s ever since.

You don’t have to know or care anything about UK garage’s evolution into grime, or about UK pirate radio culture, to make sense of A Grand Don’t Come for Free. (That stuff does help a bit with Original Pirate Material.) All you have to know is, it’s a great pop album about a day in the life, a series of songs that tell the story of a series of events that happen to the narrator. (The ’70s punk band Sham 69 did something similar on their That’s Life LP, but that album had actual dialogue between songs; this one lets the songs tell you everything.)

The album begins with the narrator lamenting that “It Was Supposed to Be So Easy.” He returns a DVD… but the case is empty. Goes to a bank machine… insufficient funds. And the thousand pounds cash he’d had by the TV is gone. The song lays out the template for the album: spoken/rapped verses telling the story and a sung chorus (not that Mike Skinner is the most gifted singer, but he’s sometimes joined by someone who actually can sing).

The music is built on UK garage (a form of British R&B) and grime (British rap), but the styles of song over those beats change depending on the song; “Blinded by the Lights” is a trippy tune with female backing vocals; “Get Out of My House” is close to straight-up grime, with Skinner trading verses with a female rapper; “Fit But You Know It” is an upbeat rock song driven by a simple electric guitar riff; “Dry Your Eyes” is a ballad. Through it all, Skinner (whose real accent is apparently a Birmingham accent) uses a rough London accent.

This is a fun and accessible album; I can’t help but think that it helped pave the way for albums like Lily Allen’s Alright, Still. That album lacks the grime/garage pedigree of A Grand Don’t Come for Free, but its cheeky lyrics, mix of pop, ska, reggae, and other sounds, and mockney accent sound just right after listening to the Streets. Better than listening to the Streets albums that followed this one, I’m sorry to say; neither one really grabbed me at all. But at least there’s this and Original Pirate Material. Plenty of artists never make one great album. The Streets made two.

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