Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Streets
Original Pirate Material

Released 2002 on London
Reviewed by Billy Milk, 21/03/2002ce

It's been a while since Birmingham has had a world-beating star to be proud of, but that's about to change with the release on Monday of an album that is set to catapult a certain Mike Skinner to international stardom.
Original Pirate Material by the Streets (Skinner's chosen alias) stands head and shoulders above everything else released this year. It's an album so perfect it can bring tears to the eyes.
In a nutshell, the album is the true sound of young urban Britain, a celebration of all that's good (and bad) about growing up in a society that still treats teenagers as potential criminals, yet lets them indulge in weekend rituals of sex, booze and drugs.
Mike Skinner is a poet. Not a highbrow tortured wordsmith but a sassy, street-smart geezer who just happens to be hilarious. Although his lyrics are written in the language of the streets, his truths are deep and universal. Like a prize fighter, he spars with his subject, unleashing devastating couplets and asides that invariably hit the target.
Working in the controversial arena of UK garage, he's hit on a style that has just given music its next evolutionary leap forward. In a massively over-hyped genre in which violence is very much an issue, Skinner proves you don't need to form a "crew" with two dozen mates and court the wrath of the moral majority to grab attention.
Skinner's never been to Ayia Napa. He's not hooked on Cristal champagne and doesn't wear those awful Moschino drainpipes. He doesn't drive a BMW and has no interest in the "bling bling" culture celebrated by the stars who have gone from nothing to superstar status seemingly overnight.
A softly-spoken and unassuming 22-year old, Mike Skinner joins the ranks of the Specials, Soul II Soul and The Clash in being a fount of wisdom, speaking up for the underdog and no-hoper, and Britain is going to love him.
When the Specials hit the number 1 spot with Ghost Town in June 1981, it was that rare moment when pop and politics were in harmony. Jerry Dammers' song of urban alienation is one of the darkest chart-toppers in history and its success proved that we weren't just a bunch of brainless consumers.
Original Pirate Material is stuffed to the gills with songs that are every much the equal of the Specials and his delivery is so spot-on that it's impossible not to be impressed. As the So Solid Crew end of the garage scene pursues an agenda that can only foster more black-on-black violence, puny white guy Mike Skinner is an Everykid for a generation weaned on alcopops, Playstations and weed.
He's already been christened a British Eminem by the increasingly lazy and unimaginative NME, but this tag does neither any favours. Cut through the authority-baiting of Eminem and you'll find a supremely talented word-slinger. But that's as far as the comparison goes.
The real Slim Shady pushes an ultimately nihilistic message, but Skinner is about celebrating the life of the geezer. His lyrics are ambiguous: one moment he's deriding the working-class lout who gets tanked up at the weekend and starts fights, the next he seems to be holding up the lifestyle as one to admire.
One key track is The Irony of it All, a very funny dialogue between the student-hating beer monster and a smart-Alec stude who's arguing for the legalisation of dope as the end to society's alcohol-related troubles. As "Terry" the law-abider gets more and more incensed at "Tim" the toker, the whole contradiction-ridden drugs debate is there in microcosm.
"I just completed Gran Tourismo on the hardest setting, we pose no threat on my settee," says daft Tim who sees no reason to engage with the world further than discussing with his engineering degree mates how attractive Gail Porter is.
"It really bugs me when people try to tell me I'm a thug just for getting drunk," rants Terry before giving the student a good kicking. Skinner's genius here is in presenting both protagonists in this little drama as noxious characters. No sermonising, just a realistic picture of life as it is.
Recorded in his mum's bedroom (how anti-fame is that?), the musical framework spun by Skinner is a superb patchwork of rough and ready two-step, hip-hop and house.
In six months' time the Streets will be the biggest thing in Britain and the fall-out from Skinner's success will radically alter the face of urban music. Original Pirate Material is an all-conquering juggernaut of an album and if you love music as much as I do, do yourself a favour and get acquainted with the Streets.

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