Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Streets

  • Original Pirate Material [Vice, 2002] A-
  • A Grand Don't Come for Free [Vice/Atlantic, 2004] B+
  • The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living [Vice/Atlantic, 2006] A
  • Everything Is Borrowed [Vice, 2008] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Original Pirate Material [Vice, 2002]
This succès d'estime--"cult classic, not bestseller," he says it himself--ventures closer than you'd hope to the ignoramus whine that hip hop isn't music. More even than in our underground, it settles for rhymes-with-accompaniment. In England, where the garage Mike Skinner claims to "push forward" is techno's last big thing, he may be the answer to "Who Got the Funk?" By the parochial standards of the Neptunes and Timbaland, however, his beats perk up mostly when he skanks them. As for his realism, I took it more seriously once he claimed he'd be in museums 500 years from now. All I know about his education is that he name-checks Carl Jung, but the streets he represents are a literary creation. Sometimes they rock, definitely. But sometimes words fail him. There's plenty of detail, and feeling too--not just anger, tenderness. By my parochial standards, however, his one cult classic thus far is "Too Late," where he loses the girl because he doesn't know how to keep an appointment. A-

A Grand Don't Come for Free [Vice/Atlantic, 2004]
Timely details--cellphone cutouts and charging problems, TV sex tips. Eternal truths--he's sure she's done bad stuff, but in the heat of argument can't remember just when. Dodgy plotting--obscure bit with Simone's coat leads to sad ending with a twist. A hook marks each chapter--right, chapter. This makes engrossing listening if the effort suits you, but it's useless as background music--behind Alan Sillitoe, Roddy Doyle, Dick Hebdige, the box scores, anything. B+

The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living [Vice/Atlantic, 2006]
The real reason it's OK for Mike Skinner to rap about celebrity instead of blokedom is that his skills have leapt a quantum. His comic timing and mixture of slangs--not to mention his musical conception (chorus-sung choruses, a great way for a bloke to blow his recoupables)--are all so much more fully developed that he's actually made a record that's fun to play in the background. You'll sing along to the hooks, and every time you home in on a couple of lines they'll make you smile--except on the farewell to his dad, which you can bet cogitates harder than the one about international relations. A

Everything Is Borrowed [Vice, 2008]
The sound of a bloke thinking big thoughts, which are less impressive than the bloke ("Everything Is Borrowed," "On the Edge of a Cliff"). **