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The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free

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"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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About M. R. Benning

  • joolz

    Comparing these albums is a tricky one because they both have some outstanding tracks that stand out. For me, four of the best on Original Pirate Material would have to be Sharp Darts, Same Old Thing, Dont Mug Yourself and The Irony of it All. Whereas on A Grand Dont Come For Free, they would be Could Well Be In, Wouldnt Have It Any Other Way, Dry Your Eyes and Empty Cans.
    I am inclined to agree with the view that Original Pirate Material was the overall superior album, as it contained a clever mix of hiphop tracks alongside more mellow songs, plus the classic The Irony Of It All, which has to be one of the most honest and revealing songs any artist has produced!
    However I found that Original Pirate Material initially required more listens to get into the spirit of the album, wheres with Grand Dont Come For Free, after only one listen I was hooked and decided it was one of the best albums I possessed, and the ultimate purchase of 2004.
    So that doesnt really clear anything up, but there is no doubt that both albums are of the highest quality.

  • I haven’t listened to this album very closely, but for the timing being, I think that “Original Pirate Material” was a far better album. I can appreciate the talky social observation stuff, but for me the hooks and grooves that really made Skinner’s debut special are missing here. Sharp Darts and Let’s Push Things Forward are superior hip hop tracks with a fresh view and fresh beats, but I just didn’t pick up that vibe at all on “A Grand Don’t Come for Free.”

    Eric Berlin
    Dumpster Bust: Miracles from Mind Trash

  • Duke,

    I look at it the same way I look at Zack Braff’s Garden State. There’s a lot of good in that movie, but man, I’ll be damned if Braff doesn’t have something better in him.

    While Mike Skinner has created a great concept album, I don’t think it’s going to be the apex of The Street’s recording career. He’s on the right track, I just think he’s still harboring a lot of unused potential.

  • Getting a little soft on us Duke?

  • Great stuff Michael. I love this album, utterly adore it. Mike has such an eye for minute observation, just picks up on the kindsa things most folks wouldn’t even for a second consider putting in a song. The bit in dry your eyes about “she looks at me closes her eyes and when they open shes staring at her feet” (i dont think thats the exact wording) gets me every time. One thing i do disagree with, though, is that i believe this IS a masterpiece. I choke up through Empty Cans every time it plays. That bit that comes in about “It’s the end of something i did not want to end…” just tears a mans heart. It’s Hip-Hop’s Blood On The Tracks. masterful stuff.