Album review

The Streets : Original Pirate Material
Locked On / 679 Recordings

The Streets : Original Pirate MaterialA sticker on the cover of Original Pirate Material boldly proclaims this to be 'the future of dance music'. If you can move to the jarring rhythms of this bleak urban soundscape then good work fella. This is not an album of nice tunes you can hum along to, either. Not that it really matters, because the contents of this CD demands deeper appreciation than a bit of controlled fitting on a Friday night would normally allow. But, in part, this is the lifestyle it refers to.
    Original Pirate Material is a satisfyingly disturbing collection of dark poetic observations set to a sympathetic and wholly appropriate minimalist 'click-track' of stolen beats, sparse orchestration and viscious stabbing synth lines. So sit down, shut-up and listen to what the man say.

Original Pirate Material swaggers its way through the minutiae of life as experienced by your average disenfranchised and hope-less 'geezer' in Tony's Britain. In the 40 or so minutes it takes to go from one end of The Street to the other, writer, producer and performer Mike Skinner delivers all the painfully acute detail Mr Blair's youth policy-makers have spectacularly failed to reveal (and thus act on), despite all their fancy 'data-mining tools' and Oxbridge sensibilities.
    At times with the urgent delivery of a man about to be roughly removed from the mic by Tony's Secret Thought Police, Skinner delves into a murky but ultimately shallow world of lager, shagging birds, mushrooms and chip shop punch-ups. When joy-riding in Nova SRs and fretting about paying your dealer are the mainstays of your existence, "apparently there's a world out there" is an observation that carries more than a little weight . . . and you feel it is a weight that will ultimately drag many victims down, no matter how hard they struggle to view the world beyond crappy bedsits, microwave meals and Tennent's Super.

Given the bleakness interspersed with razor-sharp humour, there's more than a touch of John Cooper-Clarke about Skinner's work. That poetic humour and articulate sentiment pervade both is not a criticism of the latter as a mere copyist. It merely acknowledges that, 20-odd years on the gap still exists, and lagered-up fuck-wits still roam the streets of a Saturday night, looking to cancel out some of the tedium of their factory-fodder existences. Plus ca change and all that.
    Cooper-Clarke's Beasley Street is a tirade against the unwillingness of politicians to accept that things ain't so rosy for everyone. In a crappy urban wasteland of "bedsits full of accidents and fleas" it's hard to avoid the slippery slope down into despair. As a counterpoint to this, Skinner implores the victims of an uncaring and selfish society to "Just try and stay positive." - advice that on the surface seems a touch lightweight, but when you're at the bottom of the pile, and at the end of your resources, it'll have to do. More a measure of desperation than a lack of ideas.
    Skinner mulls over the regret of repeated patterns of self-destructive behaviour, feebly countered by that old chestnut; "I can change." He deftly and humorously acknowledges the irony in the perception of the mellow, thoughtful toker as society's criminal and the aggressive lager-fuelled night-club fuck-wit as the cheeky scamp imbued with youthful high spirits.
    The tale of a chip shop punch-up, resonant of Cooper-Clarke's Kung-Fu International, could be the bloody reality to end your imagined superior fight-craft, "'cos you know it's never going to be the Jackie Chan scene you imagined."

In fact, this album is not what I'd imagined. So take my advice; ignore the sticker on the cover - this is not a dance album. It is a very sharply observed and tragi-comic view of an element of society all too easy to ignore. The last few moments of The Streets' Original Pirate Material give us the sound of a record stuck, followed in lament by a funeral drum. Now I may be reading more into this than necessary, but isn't that saying 'The same old shit and then you die'?
    The Streets: In the words of John Cooper-Clarke, "Its a sociologists paradise." Ignore it at your peril, Tony.

:: Tom Alford

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