CD Review – The Streets “A Grand Don’t Come For Free”

The Streets
A Grand Don’t Come For FreeVice/Atlantic

To label Mike Skinner, the man behind The Streets, as the English/Cockney equivalent to Eminem just as Guy Ritchie is of to Quentin Tarantino, is astoundingly appropriate. Just as Ritchie slapped Cockney accents and pasty gangsters onto a “rollicking, quirky” plot that is essentially Tarantino, Skinner cuts through today’s ultra-glamorous lifestyle of hip-hop with humbling, self-effacing lyrics in the same manner as Eminem.

A Grand Don’t Come For Free is the conceptual journey of a guy named Mike. This brand of contemporary English adventure is about as lethargic as Harry Potter’s escapades, only with Eminem’s ostensible semblance of “being real.”

Mike’s exploits begin when he screws up returning a rented DVD in the opening track, “It Was Supposed To Be So Easy.” With grand, epic brass, GDCFF is immediately ambitious and worthy of attention.

Ultimately, Skinner’s delivery is awkwardly charming, with too many lyrics per beat. This is his intended style, which is adequate for limited use, but the cumulative affect of these songs become fatuous and tiresome. Like the opening track, most of the music on GDCFF is moderately entertaining, but Skinner’s lyrics are so high above the music that listeners are constantly drawn back to his contemporary, melodramatic narrative based on a mediocre lifestyle of marijuana, fast food and complaining about his broken TV while lounging on his girlfriend’s couch. All the while he’s looking for a thousand dollars that he lost; thus the album’s title.

In fact, this is not an unattractive story for most demographics involving rap or hip-hop, which usually follows the plight of the everyman, or “everydog,” as it were. GDCFF is receiving glowing reviews as poetic, sociopolitical commentary that details life beyond its means. In other words, Mike’s inane trials amid today’s banal landscape are being hailed as psychologically savvy.

Skinner’s new album in this genre of grime-hop is something new and different, but not exceptionally so. The character of Mike is not too different from Eminem’s “Stan,” and “Stan” is only a regurgitation of the oft-used characterization of everyman. At least Mike is not about a guy who loves Skinner like Stan was about a guy who idolized Eminem. Skinner seems to have more respect for Mike, and that small stipulation is refreshing. Most of the time on GDCFF, however, Skinner’s rhyming reminds us of our younger brother who has a decent I.Q., but whose lyrical delivery remains amateurish and forced.

GDCFF has a neat ending track with “Empty Cans.” The first half is a nasty could-have-been finale to Mike’s journey with lyrics that spew cynicism: “No one gives a crap about my back/ That’s why I’m acting nasty.” Then the song gives itself a second chance with the flick of the rewind sound, and Mike decides life can be better, he can get his TV fixed, people have to watch their own backs and that’s okay. This story ends with the optimist’s reward: Mike finds his money while his mate, Scot, helps him fix his telly. Although a nice message, it doesn’t change the fact that this album is overrated.

Contact Harold Valentineat