"America creates it and England perfects it" is a saying I’ve grown accustomed to hearing since the age of twelve when I removed my MC Hammer tapes from a displayed collection and relegated them to the bottom of the random item box in my closet. I was making the transition from pop to rock, and it wouldn’t be long before I started to realize that the English do music the way we do, only better. We have Aerosmith, they have Zeppelin. You know the drill.
The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, while possibly being one of the best albums released last year, isn’t a masterpiece. It’s a sure sign that Mike Skinner, the Trent Reznor of The Streets, has one in him, though.
A Grand Don’t Come For Free consists of 11 vignettes, each a song chronicling part of a young white middle class male’s troubles with a cheating girlfriend and possibly scheming friends. As a means to keep the album’s sound consistent, Skinner has kept it gritty with his UK garage hip/hop sound.
It starts off appropriately with "It Was Supposed To Be So Easy," a track that sets up the story slowly and without too much weight. It then takes you to the seedier realms of Mike, the main character’s, life. You see his gambling problems in "Not Addicted," the cheating girlfriend and drug use in "Blinded By The Light," and self-esteem issues in "Such A Tw*t." It moves very similarly to a Hollywood movie, providing you with all the rises and falls therein, and eventually settling on "Empty Cans" as it’s denouement.
This production quality is a double edged sword. It can draw you in to the bars and smoky living rooms where the scenes take place. It can also make the music seem sloppy. Why didn’t Mr. Skinner re-record or mix down certain vocal tracks? In the end it’s an aesthetic choice he had to make, but definitely one that will turn some listeners off.
Regardless of the minor faults, A Grand Don’t Come For Free is a compelling listen. I found myself relating to and wishing the best for our hero Mike. At times I was taken back a few years. Most of all I was entertained, which is what music is supposed to do. If it can make you feel at the same time, even better.
In a few years the UK may be beating our rappers just like they have our rockers. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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