Album: The Streets

A Grand Don't Come for Free, 679 / Locked On
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Two years on from the acclaimed Original Pirate Material, and a million-plus sales don't seem to have altered Mike Skinner's world that much, judging by A Grand Don't Come for Free. In the press release, he discusses hip-hop's "difficult second album" syndrome, explaining that it's hard for someone such as 50 Cent to sustain his image as bullet-ridden hard man when he has spent the past few years "collecting awards, going to parties".

In his own case, Skinner has chosen to go down the concept-album route, opting to retain the Everylad persona and grimy tower-block milieu of his debut, but refocusing his attentions more tightly on his character's storyline. So instead of a generalised depiction of working-class adolescence, we're thrust deeper into the specific problems afflicting his protagonist Mike, which are sketched out in the opening track "It Was Supposed to be So Easy". An ironic fanfare sample tracks his progress through one of those days when everything goes wrong: his telly's bust, he takes the wrong DVD back to Blockbuster, he can't get money from a cashpoint because he's overdrawn, his mobile phone battery's flat, and when he gets home, he finds £1,000 has gone missing.

Subsequent failures at romance ("Could Well be In"), gambling ("Not Addicted"), and a fretful, E-fuelled night at a club waiting for his mates ("Blinded By The Light") soon persuade him, by "I Wouldn't Have it Any Other Way", that he's actually quite happy "sittin' here on the sofa, roachin' a spliff, watchin' TV" at his girlfriend's place. But only for a moment or two: before long he's back in his old routine.

A degrading week of getting drunk and eyeing up the girls on holiday, as outlined in the single "Fit But You Know It", leaves him ashamed at himself for messing up the good thing he had with his girlfriend ("Such a Twat"). But then Mike finds out his mate Dan has been playing with her behind his back, which plunges him into an orgy of self-pity and recrimination ("Dry Your Eyes"). The album closes on a dual ending, the last track, "Empty Cans", offering two separate conclusions to his plight.

Plotwise, it's hardly The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, but there's probably enough going on here for a Ben Elton musical - except that, musically, A Grand Don't Come for Free is a far less distinguished effort than its predecessor, with the only memorable backing being the "Jean Genie" riff of "Fit But You Know It".

By his own lights, Skinner has probably managed to overcome "difficult second album" syndrome, but it's debatable whether there's much staying-power in these tracks, which contain little of interest musically, and rely a shade too heavily on the appeal of his Everylad persona.

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