Welcome to Album of the Week. In this series, our contributors bring you exciting music recommendations, drawing from all corners of the music world to share their favourite albums, and to explain what makes them worth listening to. This week’s suggestion comes from Ciaran Hanvey.

Innovator. Brummie. Legend.

Mike Skinner is arguably one of the most influential artists to have emerged from the UK music scene in the early 2000s. His hypnotic Brummie flow and immense capability as a producer led to the production of two era-defining albums, Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free, under the moniker of The Streets. I could have easily chosen either album as my Album of the Week, but Original Pirate Material is arguably the most influential of the two. The album was released in 2002: a time when Oasis were still going, Gorillaz were about to drop Demon Days, and grime was about to explode into mainstream avenues with Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner.

I cannot pretend to be an original fan of The Streets — in 2002 I was barely three years of age. It was not until I was at least six when I remember first hearing the Brummie lingo of Mike Skinner. Through my brother’s use of Limewire and Windows Media Player I was introduced to Dry Your Eyes, a track from The Streets’ second album. Being six, I was not fully aware of the connotations of the song, just finding it something easy to listen to. Yet the song became one of my favourite tracks, and stuck with me right through secondary school. It was not until the age of 16 when I truly to began to appreciate the gem that is Original Pirate Material, and how the voice of one man encapsulated being young in the late nineties and early 2000s.

I admit that the album will not be everyone’s cup of tea — you might find the delivery awkward and his voice not quite right, particularly with the beats produced. Yet this is part of the genius, as you will find hours later that the lyrics will still be in your head. Hypnotic is the perfect word to describe Skinner’s voice, and once listening you will not be able to escape his words. Simple lyrics such as “Round ‘ere we say birds, not bitches” or “Don’t mug yourself” have the ability to incite laughter, and a relationship with the listener, using dialect familiar to ordinary people, something which was not widely seen in British music prior to Skinner’s debut.

The album can be emotional and dark at points but, as I have already alluded to, it can also provide humour. The outright wacky nature of The Irony of It all — a debate between Terry and Tim, both voiced by Skinner, comparing the societal consequences of alcohol use to that of marijuana is one such example. Emotive, more meaningful tracks on the album include the final track Stay Positive, in which Skinner discusses the power of positivity with the listener, using his own negative experiences as a talking point. Furthermore, tracks such as It’s too late encapsulate the pain of heartbreak and taking things for granted, providing a stark contrast to the opening of the album. When most emotional, Skinner is at his best, as seen on later albums.

It often annoys me when people dismiss this as just being a garage album. I think it does The Streets a disservice putting them in that bracket, as Original Pirate Material offers so much more, presenting various different genres accompanied by flawless lyricism. It is even more impressive when you look at the background behind the album. The album was recorded in his bedroom using limited resources, which in my eyes makes it all more impressive as an album. From a ska beat reminiscent of The Specials in their heyday on Let’s Push Things Forward to the funk on Who Got The Funk, it is clear that this is not simply a garage album. The opening track Turn The Page is arguably the only traditional garage track, and what an opening track it is, with his lyrics and production oozing self-assurance and extreme talents.

Original Pirate Material may have been the voice of a previous generation, but even today it has the ability to resonate. We all know what it is like to be a state while clubbing, meeting memorable strangers, or going to the pub with mates, or being given advice on relationships by the same mates. It is easy to see why so many regard this album as an inspiration, with its high chart positions documenting the best rate albums of the noughties. Admittedly, it is not my favourite Streets album. But there is no better album to listen to for your first encounter with the legend that is Mike Skinner.

Featured image: “Towering Inferno” (1995) by Rut Blees Luxemburg

Categories: Music

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