The Streets Original Pirate Material

The UK music press has been falling all over themselves to declare Mike Skinner (aka the Streets) the British Eminem, whatever that means. Given their penchant for hyperbole and tearing someone down as fast as they build them up, this comparison should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. However, to be sure, Skinner's music represents something quite different. Last year's "Has It Come To This," like many singles on the UK charts, rode a two-step garage rhythm. What made it stand out were Skinner's keenly observant lyrics delivered in thick Brummie accent, an approach in stark contrast to the party-oriented, or dark-style, that predominates. On Original Pirate Material, it turns out this was just a taste of his musical reach. Skinner's cocky, conversational style as an MC is tempered between contemplatively eloquent and hilariously colloquial. Having assured himself that he is a trailblazer, he addresses the perceived stagnation of other music explicitly on the ska-influenced "Let's Push Things Forward," and more subtly on the blustery "Same Old Thing." While "It's Too Late" aspires to, rather than surpassing, Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy," for the most part, Skinner can backup his claims. At various times he draws on house, hip-hop and two-step for his music, and ties it together with his witty street fables. "Geezers Need Excitement" provides three vivid scenarios describing what Skinner calls, "a day in the life of a geezer." Even though he seems to be having a great time, there's always something going on between the lines. "The Irony Of It All," which features Skinner impersonating two very different characters, each with their own soundtrack, appears comedic at first, but turns out to be a succinct class critique. Even the house-infused "Weak Become Heroes," which reminisces on bygone days of club hopping, ends with a middle finger aimed at the Tory government for drafting up the Criminal Justice Bill. As the title conveys, Skinner mentally aligns himself with the spirit of the vibrant pirate radio network in the UK, although he doesn't come off as a scenester at all. His bricolage of Brummie, Cockney and black British slang, combined with the seamless meshing of musical styles, means that Skinner has impressively gauged the pulse of an aspect of British life, and the Streets is not just a throwaway moniker. (Warner)