The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come For Free
By Dan Grote

The Streets - A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Label: Vice/Atlantic Records

When we last left young MC Mike Skinner, aka the Streets, he was introducing us to his working class/welfare state English world and the birds and geezers who inhabit it. Having laid the background for his experiences, the cockney rhymer has picked his sophomore disc as the perfect time to drop a concept album.

A Grand Don’t Come for Free details the adventures of Skinner as he misplaces 1,000 pounds, finds and loses love, and generally smokes, drinks and takes recreational drugs. Each song is a chapter in the grand saga, all of which provide prime examples of Skinner’s storytelling excellence.

Our hero’s adventure begins with “It Was Supposed to Be So Easy,” intro’d by a flourish of horns that incites a call to action. Skinner tells the tale of one bad day, an empty DVD rental case, an empty bank account, an uncharged cell phone, and the titular missing scratch.

Having lived through that nightmare, Skinner is rewarded with some feminine attention on “Could Well Be In.” Dig the soft side of the Streets: “I saw this thing on ITV the other week, said that if she played with her hair she’s probably keen. She’s playin’ with her hair well regularly, so I reckon I could well be in.” Imagine these words in a thick British accent over a soft piano loop.

Skinner’s love life provides a distraction from the missing money, even after his bird kicks him out of the flat in “Get out of My House.” The unfortunate thing about this track is the co-delivery by C-Mone, a female MC who sounds like a five year-old “Oliver” extra. Regardless, the way Skinner turns from begging to plain nasty, from apologizing for leaving her home sick on a Saturday night to yelling at her for not caring about his broken TV, is hilarious.

With his girl out of his life, his TV malfunctioning, his friends turning their back on him and a slight gambling problem (as revealed on “Not Addicted”), Skinner drinks himself into a self-loathing stupor on “Empty Cans” and gets into a row with the TV repairman whom he thinks is trying to scam him.

Spoiler – Mike finds his missing money, but what would normally be considered a happy ending becomes a bittersweet lament as Skinner sees the return of his bucks as a return to the vicious cycle of gambling and female nuttery he’d hoped to break free from. The back half of “Empty Cans” is a bit repetitious when compared to the last track of his first album, Original Pirate Material. Both songs center around the idea that nobody is there for you in the end, and that you have to make your own way.

VERDICT: What a story. What an accent. Some people may not be able to handle Skinner’s rap-speak cadence, overly repetitive choruses and sharp, simplistic beats, but from a songcraft perspective, A Grand is chockablock with amazing narrative moments and reads like a book about the English Average Joe.

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