I can remember the first time I heard Original Pirate Material, mostly because it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen any more. It was after I’d moved “down South” and I was working in a nearby town in another indie PC shop (not a patch on the one in Stoke mind). The manager from our other store in Brighton was visiting, he insisted we go out to his car to listen to “this incredible new tape”. We left one of the other lads in charge, and went and sat in his car out the front of the shop, listening to the album straight through in its entirety, rewinding “The Irony of it All” twice for repeated listens. Yes, it was on tape.
It’s almost a cliche to say, but it didn’t sound like anything else I’d heard before. This was around the time I was just getting into Hip Hop (as referred to in my discovery of Jay-Z). Unlike the American rappers I was listening to, Mike Skinner’s lyrics were immediately more relevant to 20 year old me.
The Irony of It All
The track that stuck with me most from that initial listen, still sounds great today and remains pretty relevant.
Let’s Push Things Forward
UK Garage seemed to be a thing for 6 months or so, but as much as I enjoyed some of the tracks at the time, the genre didn’t seem to be going anywhere. (UK Garage compilations over the last 20 years seem to agree with me, featuring the same tracks by DJ Luck, Craig David & The Artful Dodger etc, in slightly different orders.) The Streets emerged from that sound, and essentially added poetry. Let’s Push Things Forward is something of a manifesto.
Too Much Brandy
Bit of light relief for an album that at times is pretty melancholy. Too Much Brandy takes us along for a night out, which is all very familiar. Why yes I will dance the fandango and sing all my favourite jingles.
Relationship with the album
Original Pirate Material is the sound of an era for me. The soundtrack to the time of my life where I’d just left home, and moved 200 miles away to start my own story.
I found a great review of the album below, well worth a read as it really touches on why it’s great, and I’d echo much of the sentiments.
For a while it seemed that Mike Skinner was going to capture every element of life in music. His knack for producing a relatable song for every emotion led to myself and a good mate simply referring to him in conversation as #TheArtist.
I remember The Streets being dismissed by some friends and family at the time with “he’s just talking”. I don’t think that’s really a criticism. There is a poetry to The Streets that is bridging the gap between Spoken Word and Hip Hop.
I’m delighted The Streets is a thing again, and hope the recent new music leads to more albums.
Other albums and songs
Never Went to Church
Devastatingly haunting, but lyrically real; Never Went to Church did for loss what “Dry Your Eyes” did for breakups. Always guaranteed a listen on my late brother-in-law’s birthday. Miss you Kev.
The Sherry End
Another more lighthearted track, The Sherry End captures the easy friendship of close mates, and the comfort found in shared experiences.
Love You More
Mike Skinner does relationship insecurity.
On the edge of a cliff
There were easily another eight or so tracks that could have made this section, but thought I’d round it out with some existential reflection.
A compelling case can be made that “A Grand Don’t Come For Free“* is the better album, and as a concept album it rewards a straight play through with a coherent story. If I did fifteen perfect albums, it would make an appearance. The Streets narrowly missed out on having two albums in this list.
For me however, Original Pirate Material is the one I go back to most often. It is perfect.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.