BLIND TASTE TEST: The Streets – Original Pirate Material

Original pirate material, you’re listening to The Streets. Nick, you’re listening to The Streets! But only because Fran made you. Lock down your aerial.

Dear Nick,

I am genuinely fascinated by what you, a 43-year-old man in 2020, are going to think of Original Pirate Material upon your first listen. And, for once, I don’t point your age out to be ageist.
Instead, I make a point of your elderly state because of the age I was when I first heard this album. 18. In 2002. It was an album that affected me in a way that very few have in the intervening decades. ‘Same Old Thing’ made me feel seen as I languished in what I saw as a dead end town. ‘It’s Too Late’ reflected the feelings I’d felt following a breakup, and those I feared feeling again in the future. ‘The Irony of It All’ made me laugh and cry all at once. ‘Stay Positive’ made me want to find Mike Skinner and give him a massive hug.
Every single song made me feel that, as a young man in the UK at a difficult time, I had finally been recognised by music.
But will it still feel so fresh and unique today? Will it still be revolutionary? Will it connect with you in even a fraction of the way it did with me and so many others back in 2002?
Who knows?
Over to you…

It’s true: I’m a decrepit, curmudgeonly old git. That’s not to say I can’t cast my mind back through the depths of time, to a period in my life when I was 18, and was looking for equally rebellious tunes to propel me out of the stifling (in my case suburban) hinterland.

The fact that I chose something very different for my answer to this angst doesn’t matter. Listening to “Original Pirate Material” for the first time, I can see 18 year old Fran, and a million other 18 year olds of the 2000s, falling in love with it.

 

For me, on a very first listen, it’s a story of two sides…

On the one hand it seems like an album full of witty, clever stories about drugs, drinking, fucking. “Geezers need Excitement” is a good example of the insightful, observational stories that Mike Skinner can tell. It’s a compelling listen, and I’d like to have more time to get to grips with what he’s saying as his lines fly past me. 

There is a sense of intimacy with Skinner’s view of the world – a perspective he gives us on his life, and the lives of an army of young people at the clubs, pubs, parks, and house rows – living it up or just getting by, from night out to night out. Lyrically these narratives make me think of so many newer acts that obviously owe The Streets a huge debt, from Arctics to Kate Tempest to Slowthai.   

 

Then there is the music behind these words. In short, it’s not just me that’s old: the beats and looped sampling often sound pretty dated now. The loops are usually pretty short, which can be off putting to me at some point. “Don’t mug yourself” is a good example of this, where the complexity of the lyrics is not at all reflected in the 4 second, 4 beat synth part that runs through almost the entire track. 

It’s a pity that some songs feel like they are not fully fleshed out in terms of the beats and structure. There are songs where this is less of a problem, like “The irony of it all”, which has some progression (back and forth between the different voices), but this musical limitation will push me away from really getting into this album more deeply.

I can see why you loved this album Fran, and it does have its upside for me too, but in the end it needs to push further into new territory to keep my attention, despite my geriatric ears.

Words by Nick Parker

 

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