By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
It was supposed to be so easy. Sophie and Marcus were coming to visit me. From Kensington originally, now living in New Jersey. We'd just sit around, drink a few pints down, listen to new downloads, maybe even a new LP. Just sent to me, the Streets' new CD. It's called A Grand Don't Come for Free.
The opening fanfare makes it out to be an adventure of sorts. A cop programme with drug deals gone bad, double-crosses, femmes fatales. "It was s'pose to be so E-Z," Mike Skinner raps, no, wait, sorta sings, no, drones, flatly intones, uh...talks, like the automated reply at the cable box company. Over a 2-step beat that Mike made out of cigarette butts and bottle caps. Delivered at a slow pace so that you could punch each letter into your cell, text-messaging each and every line, the brass and snipped strings mocking the excitement of DVD returns and dead phone batteries. Most boring album of the year. But maybe I'm talking like Mike here.
I walk down to the corner bodega to pick up a few bottles of Dirty Dick's and those curry prawn crisps that they stock there, so that Sophie and Marcus will feel more at home when they get here. I turn to my left and head toward the ATM. Enter in my PIN: **** to withdraw the $60 amount from what is still in my checking account. Insufficient funds. I only take out $20, feel like a bum. Chrimey, I feel like Mike Skinner on "Could Well Be In," acutely aware of the encroaching boredom all around me. My life is turning into his. Look at the line. One lady is up there counting out every cent. I'm about to lose my mind. See a cutie in pink flip-flops. She twirls a strand of her bangs just so, in a baby-blue top, buying bananas and mangos.
My phone buzzes in my pocket. I have a new text message. It's from Marcus. It says: loo broke. stuck in nj. call later. This damn phone, I miss all my important calls. There's no reception out on the street. I walk back upstairs with pints, quarts, a bag of crisps. Now there's nothing to do but roll up a spliff, watch Superstar USA, perhaps write about Mike Skinner. He's from somewhere in the U.K., I think. Birmingham? But now I can't find the one-sheet. Damn, where could it be? It's not among all of my other papers. Go through everything on my desk, a stack of unlistenable CDs crash. Maybe it's in the trash? I look all over the place, then just stare at the case. The cover shot is a lonesome bus kiosk; inside are photos of corner-store queues, a shitty club. Pensive, pissed, restless, listless, always doe-eyed, Mike reports it all back to us, wary, rocking Fred Perry.
It feels more like hip hop, the critics say, which is exactly what Mum says about hip hop: "It's just some bloke talking over a record." Next to that review in the alt-weekly, there's a Sam Goody ad that has a blurb about the album too: "A blend of hip hop, dub, and ska. U.K. garage beats and unique riffs." I guess there is a riff on the single "Fit But You Know It." Read somewhere that the Streets played the guitar hisself. It jitters and jerks like the Fall, just verbiage and repetition in his music, the stripped, totally wired sound bouncing in your head. Mark E. wanted to be Big Youth, though; Mike just wants to read the phone book over pager ring tones. Who said geezers need excitement?
I'm almost out of licorice Rizlas. Only one pape left. I should have bought another pack at the bodega. Don't want to walk downstairs just yet. Can't stand to listen to this without smoking a spliff. Almost out of k.b., shit. Look for a doobie among the bent bottlecaps and cigs. It's just like Mike Skinner again. Crap, maybe just enough shake left for a pinner.
At the climax of Mike's tale, he has a fight with his girl C-Mone on "Get Out of My House" over a jungle break made to bore in at 12 rpm. It's a he said/she said of the most conversationally spiteful sort, petty and shitty. Perfectly dreary. Do Sophie and Marcus have discussions like this? I text Marcus to see what he thinks of the Streets. He texts back: Streets sux. 2 laddish.
But couldn't Mike Skinner be the Leopold Bloom of London? Eating weird organ meat at chip shops, draining pints, peeping birds' tops? Getting cuckolded, having a wank? Making the mythological out of the mundane? An epic out of all the boring details that blokes and punters thankfully leave out, the little shit that drives you insane?
In the final word of that boring book: Yes.