May 26, 2004

Chewie and I have gotten into pants a lot more heavily guarded than this.

I picked up A Grand Don’t Come For Free (from Asda!) yesterday, and just finished listening to it (`bout three minutes ago). The Streets are a strange enough sound as it is, but this album is additionally atypical in that it is one of the only albums I’ve ever heard that’s more than the sum of its parts. Most albums have a handful of good (or even great) tracks, and then the rest is filler- the whole is less valuable than some of the individual songs. A few rare albums just have one great song after another (there are only six of these in existence).
This album is neither of those things- in fact, taken individually, there is no single song that I would put above, say, the best five or so tracks on Original Pirate Material. Its individual parts simply aren’t that good. However, the album is very obviously designed to be listened to in sequential order, and each song tells a part of a story that builds on the previous song- so that by the time you get to the final triumvirate, you’re actually quite invested in the story and the character narrating the events. This means that the emotional wallop (and it is a wallop) delivered at the end of the album -with each track adding a little bit to the climax- is something quite different from anything you would normally get from any one song.
In the same way that you wouldn’t (generally) point to a book you enjoyed and say: “Oh, read chapter 11, it’s great.”, I can’t choose an individual track and say: “This is the best track on the album.”, because it’s the album synoptic that’s good- not the individual parts. I’m tempted to say it’s like the soundtrack to a musical, but it’s actually more like an audiobook on life in London- set to music.
So while I can’t really recommend this album on the basis of having a lot of decent songs that you’ll want to add to your track rotation- I can recommend it as an interesting audio experience- if you’re willing to lay aside an hour and listen to a good story, well told.


8 thoughts on “Chewie and I have gotten into pants a lot more heavily guarded than this.

  1. I enjoyed “Original Pirate Material” enormously – it was the first album I’d bought in years on the strength of hearing it played in a shop.
    I also enjoy a good story – which is why A Grand Don’t Come For Free is on my (ever expanding) wishlist – I can hardly wait. Thak you for the review.

  2. You’re welcome.
    On balance (and I need to listen to it a few more times to confirm this), I would say AGDCFF is a superior album to OPM.

  3. Really?
    I shall earmark it for future familial begging.

  4. It is a great album, and I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with your assertion that the album’s sum amounts to much more than its individual parts. However, I think “Blinded by the Light” is a clear stand out track. It’s the one where all the Skinner elements come together almost flawlessly. The production is incredible; a stripped down trance sample looped throughout, and the self-contained narrative is absolutlely spot on, as well as fitting neatly into the ongoing narrative of the record. (I’ve done that myself! I’ve seen my friends do that!)

  5. I’ve not been as blown away by it as I was when I first got OPM. However, I haven’t had time to sit down and concentrate on it, which I think it’s going to need for me to get the full grasp of the story woven through it.
    Just listened to “Blinded by the Light” again and realised there’s much more there than I’d previously noticed, but “Dry Your Eyes” is still my favourite.

  6. linear listening? i like that idea. a literary album? something something?
    it’s going on my wishlist.
    and if i enjoy it as much as i enjoyed reading your review of it i’ll be doing well.

  7. I have to disagree. Well, OK, I don’t have to disagree, but I want to disagree. Because everytime I hear The Streets on the wireless, the first thought that comes into my head is:
    “Oh, it Chas & Dave doing hip-hop.”
    Which is a disturbing thought, I’m sure you’ll agree.
    But don’t trust a word I say. After all, I’m so out of touch that I was in the Royal Festival Hall listening to Elgar and Britten last night. Not a hip nor a hop in sight, frankly.

  8. Hmm….if I absolutely had to choose a best track, it’d be the last song…..I didn’t cry, but I certainly grinned like a loon and felt a wave of weepy happiness rush over me the first time I heard it.
    Problem being, if I hadn’t heard the rest of the album first, it wouldn’t even have made any sense!
    Blinded by the Light is great (I’ve certainly had that feeling while waiting for mushrooms to kick in… “These don’t do anything!”….then all of a sudden…..woooooaaaoooh!), but the dancer in me keeps wishing it would just fucking KICK IN and get some drums in there! Someone should do a dance-house remix.

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