Music News

The Streets

When James Joyce published Ulysses in 1922, its effect on the literary community was incalculable. A sprawling tome loaded with nonsense words and run-on sentences, the novel could only be adequately understood by abandoning any pre-existing notions of fiction. Joyce's prose operated with its own internal logic, and it had to be taken on its own terms.

Original Pirate Material by The Streets is a Ulysses exercise with drum loops. A deft deconstruction of garage, house, trance and hip-hop, the record invents its own lexicon and then shuts out those who refuse to learn the language. One minute, the album sounds like Dirty Vegas reinterpreting The Specials, and the next it's a mash-up of Daft Punk and the Trainspotting AudioBook. And rising above the dance-hall thump is the smart, spry verse of Streets mastermind Mike Skinner, a hooligan with a Cockney accent, a thirst for ale, and an eye on everybody's girlfriend.

Skinner doesn't rap. He rambles. Clinging to a merciless internal rhyme scheme, Skinner spits pithy monologues front-loaded with nimble puns. He describes his lifestyle as "sex, drugs, and on the dole." He blows the dust off the word "geezer" and uses it as the record's principal insult. These are the kind of syntactical tricks Eminem might pull if he were actually clever instead of crass. Not that Skinner is a shoo-in for sainthood. Throughout the record, he and his mates get drunk, fuck, fight, get drunk again, pass out, wake up groggy and stumble off to the next pub. The difference is that instead of being driven by malice, the Pirates are propelled by their craving for kicks -- no matter how deadly.

Under normal circumstances, the record would collapse under the weight of its thousand conceits, but Skinner gets the whole thing over with charisma. He's got ambition and courage. He's no Stephen Dedalus, but he'll do just fine.

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J. Edward Keyes