The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free (Atlantic)
Everything about Mike Skinner’s debut, Original Pirate Material (review), seemed too real—his portrayal of everyday life wasn’t a Hollywood blockbuster, instead it focused on intricacy and reality, an element lacking in music (specifically in hip-hop, whose artists have seemingly forgotten the genre’s roots). A Grand Don’t Come for Free isn’t a concept album like Original Pirate Material was—it’s a story. Whereas Pirate delivered you fragments of the picture to be pieced together, Grand is an urban opera, each chapter is delivered linearly by song.
Musically, Skinner’s beats are still golden. Although they never evolve—the way each song begins is basically how it ends—they are simply a backdrop to Skinner’s words, which are just as poignant and visually expressive as they were the last time around. It’s his lyrical quality that more then makes up for what is, essentially, clichéd plot. The story’s protagonist Mike falls in love with Simone, the relationship goes sour and Mike cheats on Simone with the “fit girl” depicted in lead single “Fit But You Know It.” Along the way, he realizes that his friends aren’t who he thought they were and, in his own words, “Everyone’s a cunt in this life.”
When everything goes to shit, Skinner ends the album with this: “Something that’s not meant to be now is done / This is the start of what was.” It’s obvious he is referring to the life we knew of on Original Pirate Material. And really, more then either album, it’s the two put together that display why Skinner approaches life in his art like the best. We are given a window in which to view Skinner’s own existence, he playing the role of everyman. Our lives are movies, poetry, and great literature. They are made up of phrases, and like any great epic the curtain closes on one moment and a new act begins. Original Pirate Material is the portrait of who exactly Mike Skinner is. A Grand Don’t Come for Free is just one small era in his story. When it ends, he goes back to being just another geezer.
Much like every album that unveils a story, the songs here aren’t meant to be taken out of the context of the album. Truly, A Grand Don’t Come for Free is far more powerful then the sum of its parts. Discredit him, if you’d like, for his occasionally goofy, forced delivery. That’s your mistake, because Skinner doesn’t want to beat the rap game. His focus is something far more valuable—he has emerged as one of the brightest poets we have, someone who sees the forest through the trees. By reciting his own story, Mike Skinner has reminded us of one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life—everything is ever-changing and—honestly—we have no idea what’s to come in our own great tales. A new chapter begins every minute.