Concept albumsâ€”sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. I tend to be a fan of them, though in terms of hip-hop the concept of an album is usually held together by the skits between songs.
The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free should be marveled for accomplishing an impressive featâ€”it manages to contain a complete narrative without sacrificing diversity in tone. Individual songs work outside of the framework of the narrative as well as they do within it.
Granted, it does take some paying attention to notice the subtle distinction between Mike Skinner inhabiting a character and the fact that the character’s troubles create a story. The distinction becomes clearer toward the end of the album when characters return and things get tied together. I really dug the dual ending of the final track “Empty Cans”.
Other songs that I thought were particularly strong; “Blinded by the Lights”, “Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way” and the oft-mentioned “Fit But You Know It”.
Skinner’s flow is so laid-back that “conversational” doesn’t do it justice; it’s almost as though he’s speaking and words just happen to rhyme. And while there is a bit of a language barrier, with the Brit slang and whatnot, it actually made me actively pay attention to the songs.
And it’s that same foreignness that kept me interested in the simplistic beats. If someone on this side of the pond used similar beats I’d casually dismiss them. But as it stands with this album, I just chalk it up to how they do things “over there”.
As I recall, The Streets was hyped as part of a new British Invasion, and that didn’t quite take. And it sucks, because A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a pretty solid album.