The Streets - Original Pirate Material
Mike Skinner, front man of The Streets, may have been described as the British Eminem, but perhaps the most telling line on Original Pirate Material is, “Around here, we say birds not bitches.” There’s (thankfully) none of the gun-crime or objectification of women you’d associate with many American artists tellin’-it-like-it-is. Okay, on Geezers Need Excitement there are dealers to pay and a potential fight in the “shit-in-a-tray merchants” (the post-club takeaway), but Skinner comes across as the sort of guy who’s more likely to give you some bug-eyed chat in a nightclub than see you to within an inch of your life.
The beauty of Original Pirate Material is that, amongst the low-budget hip-hop and garage beats, are stories and experiences we can all relate to; in fact, I’d go as far as say it’s the best statement on British youth culture since Suede’s debut album.
For a record labelled as “Shakespeare for clubbers” (Mail on Sunday), the words aren’t always as great as you’d expect and are often of the “whatever rhymes” variety ("I purchase a hazy escape at the alcohol place in The Chase" from the rather trite It’s Too Late). That said, you’re never far away from a vivid description or good line, with two tracks standing out in this respect. Too Much Brandy details a wild weekend in Amsterdam, as the narrator works his way through weed, mushrooms and alcohol, ending up mashed in a nightclub (“far gone on one, call me Baron Von Marlon, one has monocle and cigar, dicky bow and long johns”). The Irony of It All is an argument between Terry, a drunk thug (“when the weekend’s here I exercise my right to get paralytic and fight”), and Tim, a stoned student (“let’s talk space and time... I like to get deep sometimes and think about Einstein and Karl Young and old kung-fu movies I like to see”). Both are brilliantly voiced by Skinner, making for a track that's hilarious and frightening in equal measures.
In addition, Original Pirate Material has three of 2002's best singles. Let’s Push Things Forward recalls the multiculturalism of The Specials and lurches along in a ragga-ish way. Don’t Mug Yourself is two-and-a-half-minutes that should put a smile on your face, and the song any gent should play before acting too keen (“you’re acting like I’m prancing like a sap, jumping when she claps and that”). Weak Become Heroes may be about the highs and lows of ecstasy, but the lyrics (helped by warm piano tones) also successfully capture the poignancy of looking back on one’s youth.
Elsewhere the album is somewhat more patchy and it’s easy to see why The Streets polarize opinion. Love them or loathe them, though, there’s no denying they have a unique quality. With much of their charm coming from the bedroom approach, what will happen when they make the next album backed with more money? The good news is, after this fine debut, at least we care to find out.