Friday, November 21, 2008

Ever Walk These Streets?

There's probably no good reason why I should like The Streets. A 51 year old man living in Chattanooga, Tennessee listening to a young British guy with a thick accent and an idiom I don't really understand (rapping is called "spittin'") who, when he isn't telling autobiographical stories of pill-popping and club-hopping in London, is trying to rap with the same bluster as inner-city African-American rapper. Except that his taunts are things like, "My crew laughs at your rhubarb-encrusted verses."

On top of the that, the instrumentation can be repetitive and amateurish, so that everything doesn't quite add up, almost but not quite, like a homemade cake that didn't come out like the picture in the recipe but still tastes pretty good.

Thus is the transformative power of music. Even if we can't quite figure out the context or the meaning, if there's something engaging about the songs, we'll hang with them.

Welcome to The Streets. If you've never heard them (him, it's one guy, Mike Skinner, who drags in various friends when he needs them), and you're willing to listen to a couple of introductory tracks I've posted, then you're about to enter a world where (again, imagine an American rapper doing this) our protagonist starts over swelling, synthesized strings and declares himself "45th generation Roman." I love that.

It's a world where if you can't feel the effects of the first pill, you take another, and maybe another, and then deal with the consequences. It's a world where when you're out in the city, eyes are on you because you are young and wild, and the only thing that enables you to feel impervious to the "geezer stares" is the love of a good, or not so good, woman.

There's poetry here, don't doubt that, and bravado and vulnerability of a kind you've likely not experienced. Who else do you know that would close a song like this: "Stand by me, my apprentice. Be brave. Clenched fists." Who else would, in the middle of a song ("Weak Become Heroes") where he's painted a thorough picture of an ongoing nightlife over a repetive keyboard, stop, and have the sudden realization that 5 years have passed and he's been doing the same thing over and over every night during all that time.

The Streets are not afraid to make fun of himself (pronoun disagreement intentional) at the same time he is spouting a manifesto for a new kind of music that he is creating. You've got to love a guy who can admit that "[w]e both saw things from the same point of view/ She loved me and I did, too."

It's a superficial world where men worry about their hair, where rolling papers and Playstations and Mickey D's are cornerstones of a lifestyle, and I can't necessarily tell what it is he's musically rebelling against (although he says things like "This is not a club track," so it probably English pop music he despises), but, ultimately, that doesn't matter. As a listener, I get caught up in the drama of it all and, not surprisingly, end up on his side in whatever war he's fighting.

All of these songs come from The Streets' first cd, Original Pirate Material, available at Itunes.


Anonymous said...

this guy "never rocks the mic with the pantyhose." Freeeeeessssssssssshhhhhhhhhh!

Anonymous said...

just thought I'd mention (not as a criticism), that its

"rhubarb And custard verses."

which is a reference to a cartoon I'm guessing was never aired in the states