Thursday, December 12, 2002
Original Pirate Material
When I first discovered the new UK garage/hip-hop outfit The Streets, I envisioned a group of platinum-clad, thuggish British MCs once again pathetically attempting to imitate American rap culture. Surprisingly, that is not the case at all. For one thing, The Streets are one-way; the debut album, Original Pirate Material, was created in the bedroom of a single musical mastermind, Mike Skinner. For another, the band is really good, and it''s being taken seriously. After being nominated for the 2002 Mercury Prize along side acts such as David Bowie and The Doves, Skinner unintentionally just might have instigated a new revolution in British urban music.
Something of a street poet, Skinner is on a mission. He''s your seemingly average 22-year-old hailing from Birmingham, "telling it like it is" and saying what no one else does. To hear Original Pirate Material is to be led through a dryly humorous portrait of an everyday, working-class bloke''s life in the UK. "Not since (the Sex Pistols) Never Mind The Bollocks has there been a record that has said so much about being young and living in the UK," swooned the BBC.
Just as techno never really gained mass appeal in the US, neither has garage music yet established a large audience in the States. Garage is a unique UK style of music rooted in its people and places. But far from the sugar-coated musings of MJ Cole, Skinner has taken garage in a radically different direction. Rapping with an unadorned commoner''s speech that seems more conversational than spouting rhymes usually does, Skinner has carved himself a niche by talking about what he knows best: UK street life and culture. Tough, rough, hectic and bouncy, the beats are more subdued so as not to distract from Skinner''s words, which might seem quite simplistic at times. Yet the bare-bones structure of his speech hits you directly with a cadence that is far from your average "bling bling" DJ.
The critic''s favorite, the industry''s favorite, your everyday blokes'' favorite--how come this cockney lad has suddenly become the next big thing? While most pop icons are diligently crafting their image and vying with the competition, Mike Skinner focuses on making music that the commoner can relate to. "Keeping it real," he''s inadvertently created one of the most unique albums of the year. So pay attention. As Skinner himself puts it, "You say everything sounds the same/ then you go buy them/ there''s no excuses, my friend/ let''s push things forward..."
Stars: The Best of 1992-2002
Island | Universal
Pity the poor group that hits its stride on record number one and never quite recovers. This Irish quartet, with its broad jangle and Sinead-like vocals, opened it assault on the world with the airy "Dreams" and followed that hit single up with its one and only truly great moment, the ethereal waltz "Linger," an even greater radio smash (and deservedly so). Because folky rock, from wherever it emanates, is based in melody and rarely rhythm, this perfect pop moment could never be duplicated or topped, leaving the Cranberries to try gambit after gambit after gambit.
They fuzzed the guitars and slowed the tempo ("Zombie") as the Seattleoids closed in. In the wake of Green Day, they sped it all back up ("Salvation"). And when those paths didn''t lead to "Linger" redux, they went back to the wispy. But because they''ve never been able to encapsulate the sweet melancholy of their great moment, the Crans have descended into a kind of drab Muzak. As this comp illustrates, the Cranberries themselves may have, err, lingered a little too long themselves.
Therefore, it behooves one to perhaps seek the great song out on a compilation (no endorsements of digital downloading here, kids). The rest just ain''t that great.