Friday, February 04, 2011

Music Review: The Streets: A Grand Don't Come For Free

A few months ago, I started participating in a private CD of the month club with a group of friends. Basically, the idea is that we each write a review of the CD to each other on an email list. These are pretty informal, but I thought, in the interest of keeping my blogging momentum up, I'd share a few here on Unattended Baggage. It's worth noting that of the six guys who participate in this group, I'm the only one who doesn't live in the UK. Thus, a lot of the music is British, although it's pretty much anything goes. This was my review of A Grand Don't Come For Free by The Streets:

I feel like it takes three or four focused listens for me to get my head around each of these albums, which means 3-4 hours a week, which is not easy to find. That being said, I think it’s important because, with this album, my impression changed drastically from first to third listens. Initially, I was turned off by the relatively atonal talking instead of singing style, and found the lyrics a little contrived and pretentious. It felt like lame hipster storytelling with minimal musical accompaniment, rather than a cohesive album. To be honest, I didn’t care for it that much, and wasn’t in a hurry to go back to it. But, by the third listen, my view of the album had completely changed. It’s actually quite a good CD.

The lyrics are what makes the album. Each song is a well-written little vignette – maybe they all fit together into a larger story (one Amazon reviewer said it was “a day in the life of Mike Skinner”), but I confess, right now, I don’t see that level of cohesiveness. But there’s definitely some interesting lyrics here, especially when compared to the relatively generic love/relationship/breakup songs that most songwriters tend to churn out.

The music is also much better than I first realized. Yes, there’s talking, but it’s rhythmic, and more importantly, it’s always complemented in some clever way, either with hooks sung by background singers, a drumbeat, a string accompaniment, etc. It’s a style that I thought really worked well.

It Was Supposed to Be So Easy – Love the horns in the background. Lyrics are kinda funny, too.

Could Well Be In – Piano/drums is a good background current, but I really love the chorus singers.

Not Addicted – Decent song, not much else to say.

Blinded By the Lights – I love this song’s lyrics, a great recreation of the experience of clubbing on ecstasy, or some other drug. Really captures the manic paranoia of being stranded in the crowd.

Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way – Just when I said there were no cheesy love songs, this one proves me wrong. But it’s a little more personal, a little different perspective than the typical love song, focusing more on the isolation and yearning when lovers are apart.

Get Out of My House – This is a cool song, a fight between lovers from both sides of the argument. It could almost be converted into a one-act stage scene. This is a great showcase for Skinner as a writer, but the song lacks some of the musical flourishes that highlight other songs. Still, it’s fun to listen to, even if not to sing along with.

Fit But You Know It – This is a hilarious song about conceited women, and the men they reject. One of the album’s highlights.

Such a Twat – Self-deprecating lyrics are ok, but the song kind of drones on.

What Is He Thinking? – This has a menacing musical tone, low, percussive horns and chanted lyrics, it almost feels like a spooky horror song. The multiple singers are a good touch.

Dry Your Eyes – Hey, Skinner has a sensitive side as well. His ability to control mood from song to song makes me think he should do movie soundtracks. This is probably my favorite song on the album, a confessional with a beautiful refrain.

Empty Cans – Feel the same way about this song as ‘Such a Twat.’ Ok, but not my favorite.

This one is definitely going to stay in my rotation for a while.

I’m giving it a 9/10.

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