Wednesday, September 5, 2007

[076] Original Pirate Material

Album: Original Pirate Material
Artist: The Streets
Release Date: May 2002 [UK], October 2002 [US]
Label: Locked On [UK], Vice/Atlantic [US]
Producer: Mike Skinner

"This ain't the down it's the upbeat...
I excel in both content and deliverance...
I speak in communications in bold type; this ain't your archetypal street sound... And all round and then into the underground...
My frequencies are transient and resonate your eardrums;
I make bangers not anthems...
Cult classic, not bestseller...
Critics ready with your potshots, the plot thickens...
Remember I'm just spittin'...
Around here we say 'birds', not 'bitches'...
So it's just another showflick from your local city poet...
Don't conform to formulas, Pop genres and such...
You say that everything sounds the same, then you go buy them!
There's no excuses my friend. Let's Push Things Forward."
- excerpts from "Let's push things forward"

Popular music will always revolve around young people, mostly because young people care about Pop music. But I think we can all agree that in the past couple decades, the record labels have increasingly dictated what music the youngsters are exposed to through their radios and videos. Marketing execs overseeing the creative process is troubling when you’d like to see music that truly speaks to kids. Either you have an artist much older than the kids they’re speaking to so anytime they have songs reflecting their audience it comes off as kind of creepy (see Blink-182), or you manage to find a passable singer devoid of interesting personality or their own songwriting skills, and any honesty in the music has been washed away in favor of what the label reps think is universality (take your pick). That’s why Mike Skinner, a.k.a. The Streets, came out and blew minds. Like Bright Eyes or The Strokes, here was an artist that was barely an adult (23 at the time), but who didn’t talk down to his underclassmen listeners. Remember the end of your teens, old enough to be able to drive, to escape your parents, exploring alcohol and drugs and a whole new world of nighttime social scenes with no thought given to the consequences, but still young enough to spend hours playing Playstation or get into drunken fights? Original Pirate Material is packed with chronicles of that time in a person’s life.

Let's not fool ourselves - kids drink and do drugs. That's just the way it is, and instead of sweeping that under the rug, Mike Skinner embraces that element of self-exploration. He's constantly talking about weed, E, charlie, wizz, rock, brown, but where Eminem waved his drug use in your face on his debut, as if to scream "Look at me", Skinner simply talks about it like it's an everyday occurrence, and for him, it is. Since England has a much bigger club culture, drug use by young people is much more prevalent. For Skinner, the way to address it is to be honest; it's not all junkie romance. In the amazing "Weak Become Heroes", he speaks of the sublime experience of his first E, and imagining the world's leaders on pills, but then he honestly addresses terrifying paranoia in "Too Much Brandy" and descent into addiction on "Stay Positive" (Being rocketed to stardom, it was no surprise that by his third album, he was writing about rehab vs. celebrity). His tracks, miraculously self-produced in his bedroom, follow the mood of the lyrics; "Positive" broods like Wu-Tang Forever, while the relationship between the piano and beat on "Brandy" is off just enough to simulate a loss of equilibrium. This trend holds true for the whole album; his production is excellent throughout, jumping off from the popular garage (pronounced GAH-ridge) sound where he got his start, and using it as a base for branching out. The first Streets hit single, "Has It Come To This", is closest to the world he grew out of, and while his thin beats still click, he's now building them up with grand spy-movie strings, as on the rising "Turn The Page", the clipped thrills of "Same Old Thing", or the sweeping "It's Too Late". His bangers are just as good; "Sharp Darts" and the morning-after classic "Don't Mug Yourself" are a blast, as is the comedic set-piece, "The Irony Of It All", which pits a lager-swilling lout against a smart-ass pothead who makes "homemade bongs using [his] engineering degree".

Skinner's lyrics are expertly sketched, vivid illustrations of his stories. In "Don't Mug Yourself", he "plays with the salt" at the table in a diner, as his friends save him from the same fate as Mikey in Swingers. Perhaps best is "Geezers Need Excitement", all three verses using every single line to put across an essential part of the story; everything from chicken on spinning sticks, Superman eye-lasers, shady drug dealers backed by two fat fucks, and Smirnoff Ice rounds. It's details like that which got Mike Skinner noticed outside of the club culture. Most critics embraced his hyper-detailed accounts of British life, and wanted to anoint him another in a long line of quintessentially English storytellers, from The Kinks to The Jam to Blur. But having emerged at the moment when, for young Brits, the influence of dance music and American Hip-Hop were equalling out, Skinner's narratives have a distinctly different point of view that more so recalls the vibe of UK films like Trainspotting and Human Traffic, as well as the dialogue of Guy Ritchie. I'd place more faith in that being the reason The Streets made it to America than in any leftover Britpop Anglophilia. And maybe that's the secret of The Streets' success. Some of the lyrics, especially on "Weak Become Heroes", are of the good ol' days variety, which is a brave move for an lyricist so young, but at the time in early 2002, there wasn't much going on in British music. For a split second, the ladism of Oasis was dying, Skinner's precious garage and two-step were running their course, grime had yet to begin, and most of the new wave of guitar bands hadn't even formed. Mike Skinner went looking for musical zeitgeist, found none, but ended up becoming it himself. Whether he knew it or not, he laid it all out; the single "Let's Push Things Forward" is unfortunately saddled with the album's most basic track, recalling both The Specials and Police, but its lyrics are virtually Skinner's mission statement. He says it - "This ain't your archetypal street sound" - presenting British youth with a classic album that spoke up for them instead of down to them.

01. "Turn The Page"
02. "Has It Come To This?"
03. "Let's Push Things Forward"
04. "Sharp Darts"
05. "Same Old Thing"
06. "Geezers Need Excitement"
07. "It's Too Late"
08. "Too Much Brandy"
09. "Don't Mug Yourself"
10. "Who Got The Funk?"
11. "The Irony Of It All"
12. "Weak Become Heroes"
13. "Who Dares Wins"
14. "Stay Positive"

Here's a couple videos, but if you want to see all The Streets' videos in good quality, go over to the website; you'll find them in "The Shed"
- The Streets website

"Don't Mug Yourself" [video]

- BONUS: "Let's Push Things Forward" [video]
- BONUS: "Has It Come To This?" [video]
- BONUS: "Weak Become Heroes" [video]
This is the best video for the song it's for, but unfortunately it's impossible to find a good quality video online. This one's the best I could find - the audio sync is off, but you can still dig on the track.
- BONUS: "Turn The Page" [audio]
- BONUS: "Stay Positive" [audio]

1 comment:

Kim said...

and he's cute to boot.