60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #49


Original Pirate Material – The Streets (2002)

I’ve always been someone who has placed more emphasis than is really necessary on the importance of a good lyric.  Maybe that’s why, despite really having no connection with garage music, that I fell so heavily for the debut album by The Streets.

I was stupidly busy at work in the early years of the noughties and there wasn’t much time to devote to reading about or discovering new music.  Anything I was picking up, mostly from the times I was using lunch breaks to browse around record shops, or catching up with videos on MTV2, tended to be guitar-orientated.  The likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Doves, Interpol, The Libertines and The White Stripes all released records that I bought, listened to intently and enjoyed.  Spoiler Alert – none of them have made this rundown, although some were on the longlist.

It was my dear friend Jacques the Kipper who put me onto The Streets.  One day we met up at the football, and he handed me a new compilation CD that he’d burned. More than any other, it was this that stood out:-

mp3: The Streets – Let’s Push Things Forward

A tune that, with its use of old-fashioned organ and trombone, harked back to the ska era, but with a vocal delivery that was modern and edgy.  The sort of thing that if I’d been twenty years younger, I’d have tried to learn by heart to sing along to.

I told Jacques how much I’d enjoyed it, and he replied that there were plenty other great tunes on the album. I took his advice and bought it.  I’d be a liar if I said I got all the references in the songs, both in terms of youth culture and the fact it often reflected life in a city that I lived many hundreds of miles from.  I never thought it to be a perfect album, as some of the lyrics cross into sexism/misogyny, but I’ve always put this down to the competing vocalists/lyricists involved on some of the songs – Mike Skinner certainly seemed to try and rise above such things.

It was a close call on whether the debut or the follow-up A Grand Don’t Come For Free (2004) would make the longlist for this rundown.  In the end, it came down to me thinking that Let’s Push Things Forward is their best song.  I reckon if I had leaned the other way, the second Streets album would also have made the Top 60.



It sounds like a very bad idea: a 22-year-old white Brummie called Mike rapping over his own homemade garage under the nom de plume of The Streets. The 2 Step Brian Harvey, has it really come to this?

But ‘Has It Come To This?’ is not only the most original, lyrical British rap in memory, it also (alongside So Solid Crew) charts an evolutionary route for UK garage. ‘Has It Come To This?’ is the first garage record to be made about those who buy the records, rather than about those who make them.

It is not about being bling bling or VIP in Napa. It is about getting stoned playing Playstation, about scoring drugs, about being menaced in kebab shops, about hanging round on corners looking for better, about new trainers and breaking windows, about “sex, drugs and on the dole”. It is truly, as Mike Skinner intones repeatedly over the gush of dizzy garage, “original pirate material”. A major talent has arrived.

That was the NME review of the debut single by The Streets.

SWC also wrote about the track when he included it in an ICA:-

“The song that gave you the idea that The Streets were probably going to be incredible. To take a track like this and stick firmly in the Top 20 was quite something. It came at a time when Garage was becoming big in the UK – and this has that garage echo to it, but ultimately it sounds nothing like garage was supposed to – I mean this was good. I love the way Skinner sounds isolated in it. It is a splendid record.”

SWC’s take on things resonated with me. I didn’t ‘get’ garage, not at the time nor all these years later am I any closer to declaring a love for it. There are some songs from its golden decade, which began in the late 90s, that’ll come on a radio station when I’m out and about and I’ll find myself humming along. But it doesn’t move me to dance nor do I have any vinyl or CDs associated with the genre sitting in the collection. And yet, I always enjoy listening to The Streets – well at least the first two albums as that’s all I have!

Has It Come To This jumped all over the charts on the week of its official release, going in at #18 on 20 October 2001. It then demonstrated all sorts of erratic behaviour, dropping out of the Top 100 after just four weeks, only to re-enter and go back up in due course to #55 in early December before dropping out again but coming back in for a third time and reach #80 in January 2002. All told, it spent nine weeks in the charts over a 13-week period.

It’s another one of those songs that makes me ask myself where the years have gone.  It certainly doesn’t feel as if it was almost two decades ago and they are an act I still find myself classifying as being new and fresh.  Writing these posts frightens me sometimes.

mp3 : The Streets – Has It Come To This?
mp3 : The Streets – Has It Come To This? (Zed Bias Dub Mix)
mp3 : The Streets – Has It Come To This? (Jaimeson Mix)




Just Two Guys Messing Around: An Imaginary Compilation (of sorts)

Part 6 by S-WC

The tenth song on the way back down to Devon was by a band called Ought, a Canadian band that sound like a cross between Television and Talking Heads and they are utterly wonderful. The song playing is ‘Habit’ and it is so majestic, that when it finishes Badger and I completely forget that we should be paying attention to what the next song is.

“That is such a brilliant song”, Badger says.  I agree and we spent what we thought are the next few minutes or so discussing Canada – a place that we have both been to – and both love. Badger states his love from Vancouver, where as I state that the skiing in Banff, Canada is better than anywhere else in the world (not that I have skied all over the world). Something which I have debated noisily at length over several glasses of gluhwein with several close Austrian friends around 3000 metres up in the Alps. Then we discuss Canadian bands, Arcade Fire, Wintersleep, Metz and my favourite Fucked Up.

We are getting close to a services on the M6 and decide that we need a cuppa, as we pull in the closing bars of ‘Karmacoma’ by Massive Attack fades away. ‘Oh’ says the Badger, what was the 11th song, was it Massive Attack?’ Massive Attack are one of his favourite bands, he is something of an authority on them. If that is even possible.  Massive Attack was song 16. We’d not been listening for 6 songs. I remember hearing ‘Elevation’ by U2 (which is on the safe playlist) and hope it wasn’t the 11th track. We skipped back 15th was Merchandise, 14th The Beta Band, 13th U2, 12th The Shamen (that would have been seriously hard work) and 11th was ‘Blinded by the Lights’ by The Streets. We look at each other and laugh.

Several years ago, Badger, me and our significant others went to see The Streets at the Great Hall in Exeter. It was for the tour for ‘The Hardest Way to Make A Living’. They were shit. In fact I would go as far to say it was one of the worst performances by a band in the history of live music. I saw The Stone Roses at Reading 1996, I cringed when Ian Brown opened his mouth and the mating call of a seal came out instead of song lyrics and then the stand in guitarist said “Put your hands in the air”. It was worst than that.

About eight minutes after the gig finished as we sat in the car feeling thoroughly ripped off and cheated – I stated that “I would never ever buy anything by The Streets again”’. Everyone agreed. We spent the next half an hour driving home and the twenty-minute post gig cuppa in Badger’s house slagging off Mike Skinner and his chirpy geezerish banter.

For what its worth, I have never bought anything by The Streets again and I don’t intend to. What I will say is that their debut album is a revelation, it’s astonishing, lyrically brilliant and probably one of the most original and groundbreaking albums released between in the last fifteen years. It really is.

In the years to come and if you are lucky enough to be asked what it was like being young at the start of the century – you could do a lot worse than just play who ever asked you Original Pirate Material because it’s utter genius.

If I was feeling lazy (and Badger agrees with me) then our Imaginary Compilation would simply feature that album, and let’s face it, they never topped it, but this series don’t work like that does it.

“The problem with these Imaginary Compilations” Badger says as we make our way back down the M6 as Bjork’s ‘One Day’ starts up, “is that I always end up making them very singles heavy. My Pulp one had seven singles, my Pavement one had six and I think even your Death In Vegas one has six on it”. He’s right, it did. “What we need to do is restrict it to two singles per side”. But it’s The Streets I say, we’ll struggle to find any decent non singles from their second and third albums and the rest of their back catalogue. I said that I was struggling to think of ten of their songs that I actually liked. “Yeah, me too” he said. Sleigh Bells have come on. I love Sleigh Bells.

As Badger said so eloquently in his Orwells piece, we have compiled a side each for these. My selection is Side One and I’m lucky because I get the pick of all the available Streets tracks. I only have to pick five – and that is straightforward.

Side One

Turn the Page (From Original Pirate Material)

Some people might say that starting your debut album with a track of such epic proportions is a bit of bold statement. But I remember listening to this – sitting in a car park in Okehampton – and getting goosebumps and not wanting to get out the car. I just wanted the track to go and on.

Prangin’ Out (From The Hardest Way to Make A Living)

In which Mike Skinner serves up a feast of straight-talking self-loathing and anxiety, which centres around a hook of such druggy intensity you’d have to be a straight laced Mormon or something not get the shivers.

Let’s Push Things Forward (From Original Pirate Material)

This sees Skinner in typical clear-eyed, determined mood. The tunes sorrowful sax and the dour, one-finger, repetitive rhythm is in contrast to Skinner’s ebullience, “this ain’t the down, it’s the up-beat“ he insists, refusing to be sucked down into complacency and defeatism like the haters who bellyache a lot but never do a lot.

Your Song (Elton John Cover)

My father in law is a massive Elton fan – a few months I was driving him to the airport and this came on the stereo. He couldn’t believe it. He said that it was the best version he had ever heard of the song other than Elton’s. That in itself is enough to warrant inclusion.

Weak Become Heroes (From Original Pirate Material)

The Streets best moments were I think when they were at their most sensitive, somewhere in this song – I forget where – Skinner states that “It’s easy, no one blames you, it’s that world out there that’s fucked!… you’re no less of a person and if God exists he still loves you, just remember that”. That is bloody marvellous.

Side Two

Has It Come to This? (Single Mix)

“The music’s a gift from the man on high, the lord and his children”.

The song that gave you the idea that The Streets were probably going to be incredible. To take a track like this and stick firmly in the Top 20 was quite something. It came at a time when ‘Garage’ was becoming big in the UK – and this has that garage echo to it, but ultimately it sounds nothing like garage was supposed to – I mean this was good. I love the way Skinner sounds isolated in it. It is a splendid record

Fit but You Know it (MC Version) (From Run the Road II)

A markedly different version of the original which strips out all of the original apart from that Only Fools and Horses style tune over it – then the world of grime rap over it – the best bit – when Lady Sovereign comes on and socks it to the boys. Makes a terrible song, pretty good actually.

Blinded By The Lights (From A Grand Don’t Come For Free)

Perhaps the obvious sequel to ‘Weak Become Heroes’ – you can see the same dancefloor and the same buzzing Skinner pressed up against that backdrop of beats and synths. Just another night in the life of a geezer – you feel his pain when he moans about the queue at the bar or the lack of phone reception. However there are darker forces at play here as that trip turns nasty and into a drugged up bout of severe paranoia. “Swear Simone’s kissing Dan,” observes Skinner when he finally tracks down his girlfriend and best mate. Then the high kicks back in, the tempo picks up and our storyteller is so mashed by the end of the night that he forgets about his girlfriend with the simple exclamation, “This is fucking amazing.” Absolutely right.

Stay Positive (From Original Pirate Material)

Quite simply this track contains some the hardest, realest moments ever recorded, across any genre of music. It’s a story of a fuck up, one that frightens everyone because it could happen to us all. The story of how easy it is to fall into this, to give up, to lose your drive and stop writing, stop trying, stop fighting and just sink. The end part where the viewpoints are flipped is just stunning. And that is why them being shit live later was SO irritating.

Dry Your Eyes (From A Grand Don’t Come For Free)

A number one single. A big emotional number one single – Skinner went for that deliberately and nailed it. The chorus sounds like Coldplay but like Coldplay sung by your mate, because it needed to. The devil is the detail – “She brings her hands up towards where my hands rested. She wraps her fingers round mine with the softness she’s blessed with. She peels away my fingers, looks at me and then gestures By pushin’ my hand away to my chest, from hers”. Brilliant, poignant, brutally honest. At the time I hated it, then I listened to it, and then I listened to again.

We struggled, I’ll be honest. Technically there are three singles on the first side and three on the second side. The two remixes don’t count as far as I am concerned. The Run the Road remix is an inspired choice and one I had forgotten about. Of the five Badger chose I had four on my list of Ten. He had three of my five.

By Skinner’s own admission Original Pirate Material is the “day in the life of a geezer” yet amongst the bitter-sweet, inner city anecdotes of drugs, violence, playing computer games, trips to the garage and going clubbing, there is a tender sweet message that is so compulsive. Look – don’t just download this stuff, check out Original Pirate Material you won’t regret it for one second.

mp3 : The Streets – Turn The Page
mp3 : The Streets – Prangin’ Out
mp3 : The Streets – Let’s Push Things Forward
mp3 : The Streets – Your Song
mp3 : The Streets – Weak Become Heroes
mp3 : The Streets – Has It Come To This? (single mix)
mp3 : The Streets – Fit But You Know It (MC Version)
mp3 : The Streets – Blinded By The Lights
mp3 : The Streets – Stay Positive
mp3 : The Streets – Dry Your Eyes


JC adds…..

“What I will say is that their debut album is a revelation, it’s astonishing, lyrically brilliant and probably one of the most original and groundbreaking albums released between in the last fifteen years. It really is.”

Hear hear……………..

Oh and just to demonstrate that the Coldplay observation isn’t too far off the mark:-

mp3 : The Streets (feat Chris Martin) – Dry Your Eyes




A couple of weeks back I decided to have a first listen in ages to Original Pirate Material, the debut LP by The Streets. It has aged very well…..but I was astonished to look at the back of the CD and realise that it dates back to 2002.

In essence, The Streets are/were a vehicle for the Birmingham-based rapper Mike Skinner and in much the say way as De La Soul had done on the late 80s, he wanted to release a rap LP that was a bit different from the mainstream and which relied on some different and unusual influences.  The result was something I shouldn’t really have had any time for – it was linked closely to the genre of UK garage (which I had very little time for) and much of its subject matter was based around clubbing (which is something I had no time for). But somehow it clicked with me.

Part of it was the music – I never expected to hear a rap LP which drew on ska influences – while part of it was down to the delivery of gritty lyrics in an accent that you rarely heard on mainstream radio. I was almost 40 years of age and so I couldn’t claim to be in touch with the issues that Skinner was rapping about, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t listen with a degree of empathy with the thought that for young folk, not much had changed in the two decades since I was struggling to get to grips with what life was throwing at me.

It’s an LP which sold by the bucketload in 2002 and yet two years later achieved an even higher chart position as the follow-up LP spawned a ballad – Dry Your Eyes – which went very mainstream and brought The Streets to a whole new audience who were happy enough to delve into the limited back catalogue which the record label were quick to capitalise on with a re-launched marketing campaign.

The mainstream chart success inevitably saw many of the band’s original fans turn their backs on The Streets, especially as the gigs went from being in small clubs and venues to arenas.  It was interesting that success changed the way Mike Skinner looked at the music industry – in much the same way as it had affected Jarvis Cocker a decade or so earlier – and later LPs were more introspective and melancholy, but all the while having a commercial edge which ensured mainstream interest. And while they all have material of merit, none of them match what was released on the debut:-

mp3 : The Streets – Let’s Push Things Forward
mp3 : The Streets – Has It Come To This?
mp3 : The Streets – Don’t Mug Yourself
mp3 : The Streets – Too Much Brandy




With thanks to SWC for mentioning these yesterday.  Covers of songs that are so well-known that I can be lazy and not provide background notes:-

mp3 : China Drum – Wuthering Heights

mp3 : Futureheads – Hounds Of Love

mp3 : Oasis – I Am The Walrus

mp3 : The Streets – Your Song

mp3 : Manic Street Preachers – Umbrella

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Back For Good