A Grand Don't Come For Free

The Streets

Atlantic Records, 2004

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


In the world of rap, Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) is the ultimate outsider: a Brit living a continent away from the where the majority of rap is produced, and a songwriter whose characters can only dream of rolling in a Mercedes Benz -- they're too busy getting wasted and worrying about paying the rent.

The mundane is Mike Skinner's muse in the absolutely mind-blowing A Grand Don't Come For Free. The album is a loosely-threaded concept album about a paranoid, drug-addled, but somehow loveable bloke who experiences one shit day. He wakes and tries to take back a DVD, loses a grand and falls in and out of love…a few times. The concept of a grand is a great focal point of Skinner's vision; in a Method Man album, a grand is chump change -- a tip for a waiter or a good lap dance. But in Skinner's world, it seems like it's the only thing that our anti-hero has going for him.

Even though the material is hardly enough to populate one song, let alone a concept album, Mike Skinner gives these moments an epic feel. Getting stoned and watching the television, betting on football, having your television go on the fritz and those f***ing cell phones! -- Mike Skinner's production blows these moments up into a Dr. Dre-meets-Jerry Bruckheimer extravaganza. Take the song "Wouldn't have it any other way"; the stoned, agitated main character has an internal argument with himself, getting pissed at his girlfriend, who wants to do nothing but spend the day with him smoking a roach on the couch. He'd rather be with his friends, smoking weed and watching television on their couch. But he quickly resents his friends (who he suspects lifted his grand) and wishes nothing more than to be with his girlfriend, on the couch and, yes, getting stoned.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Drugs play a central role in The Streets albums. Skinner daftly shows the paranoia, helplessness and frustrations that seep into each of the characters' lives. However, he spends equal time describing the highs the main character experiences.

If you are looking for smooth delivery, A Grand Don't Come For Free may not be your cup of tea. The argumentative "Get out of my house" is hard to listen to without cracking a smile with Skinner's stumbling, tone-deaf delivery. Still, that gives the album a punk-rock edge. And lyrically, no rap album this year will likely match the honesty of such lines like: "See, I reckon you are an eight or a nine / maybe even a 9-and-a-half in four beers time."

With all of Skinner's boasting, he pulls an Axl Rose and gives us a "Sweet Child of Mine" of the post 9/11 world-type ballad with "Dry Your Eyes." The song comes toward the end of the album, where the main character's relationship is irreparable. Very little is said between the characters; Skinner keeps his descriptions honed on the non-verbal gestures. It's risky and Skinner pulls it off triumphantly.

A Grand Don't Come For Free may not be the best album of the year -- that award could very well come in the form of the reissue of The Clash's London Calling near the end of the year. However, the album is a much-needed hypo-injection of originality in the music world. The closing track "Empty cans" gives the album an almost Hollywood ending. And who knows, maybe in a year, fans will be lining up for midnight showings of a movie based on this album, much like kids did in the '80s with The Wall. The scope may be much smaller, but Mike Skinner revitalizes the concept album as well as rock and rap in 2004.

Rating: A

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© 2004 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.