Review Summary: The man who wrote When You Wasn't Famous when he wasn't famous. Grimy beats and introspective balladry collide well.
In an age of Hoobastanks, Foo Fighters, and Fountains of Waynes, it’s a wonder no one thought of using a moniker as simple as The Streets until a cannabis-addled youth by the name of Mike Skinner chose it to be his own, nearly 50 years after Rock and Roll began. Skinner’s first album was a triumph. It was called Original Pirate Material.
Pirate Material is eclectic to say the least. Mike goes from grimy club tracks, to smooth soul sample-aided mid tempo stunners with the drop of a hair. Each new beat features a couple verses of Skinner’s signature style of rapping, a polarizing not-so-far-from-talking-that-you-might-question-the-actual-talent-of-the-man-singing brand of mc-ing that has lost him many a fan. But anyone who can hear past the thick accents, lazy deliveries, and bizarre slang would know just how brilliant The Streets’ actual lyrics are. “This one's fat like yer mother/Contains enough calories/Resonating in all your favourite frequencies/I've got a worldwide warranty/Satisfaction guarantee/If you ain't happy then just/Send it right back to me”
Mike laments over one of the most sparsely unique hip-hop beats of all time (Sharp Darts). From the other side of The Streets’ palette, Mike gets sentimental on what would be one of the most danceable (as introspective) drug-ballads ever penned (Weak Become Heroes,)
“Then the girl in the cafe' taps me on the shoulder/I realize 5 years went by and I'm older/memories smolder winters colder/but that same piano loops over and over and over/the road shines and the rain washes away/same Chinese takeaway/selling *** in a tray”
Skinner goes on to gives respect to Paul Oakenfold and imagine the world’s leaders on pills. The track, one of a few singles chosen from the album, is one of Pirate’s best. The rest of that list (the best of OPM, that is) is almost exclusively ballad type tracks, perhaps because of the annoyance some of the album’s more upbeat tracks harbor. Along with It’s Too Late (a percussion ‘n strings heavy stunner) and the aforementioned Weak Become Heroes, my list of favorite tracks goes on to include one more. Pirate’s closer (Stay Positive) is a 6:15 hip-hop innovation. It’s another ballad, as if you wouldn’t have guessed, and another one about drugs, a topic Skinner is mildly fascinated with (that and *** in a tray). Big drum sounds and piano loops make up the majority of the beat, with cinematically arranged string sounds joining in for a futilely optimistic chorus and dropping out again, leaving Mike with a wide open space for his lyrics to fill. And he does so flawlessly, in case you were wondering.
But perhaps these up-tempo tracks are supposed
to be annoying. Anyone who can include songs like Let’s Push Things Forward or Don’t Mug Yourself on their debut album is obviously trying to annoy a few people. And there’s not doubt The Streets did just that with the latter, another single, this time taking the bouncier side of Hip-Hop production on for a try. Brassy synths, staccato bass trickery, and robotic choruses make for an interesting beginning, but by the time this clichéd boy-meets-girl, boy-likes-girl, boy’s-friends-attempt-to-help-him-score-with-girl tale meets its end (with Skinner drunken, and babbling like an idiot) it’s clear that someone should stick to a more mature sound. But overall Original Pirate Material is a great career starter, introspective and fun (a combination you don’t see nearly enough) as well as a bare-bones introduction for young America as to what life is like for a certain North London twenty-something, living on the edge of who-knows-where, playing Gran-Turismo, eating pizza, discussing Gal Porter and smoking weed.
In short, it sounds good (apply this to whatever part of that last sentence you want please)