CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW:
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
Original release: 17th May 2004
Label: Locked On, 679
Producers: Mike Skinner
Singles: Fit But You Know It, Dry Your Eyes
This month, pioneering Mike Skinner-project The Streets triumphantly returned to music, bringing a European tour to a close with three dates at Brixton Academy. It’s been seven long years since the curtain was drawn on The Streets, following a farewell tour and fifth and ‘final’ project Computers and Blues, back in 2011.
While tickets for this 2018 tour understandably flew off the shelves, and new material under a variety of aliases have been received just as well, The Streets’ rebirth has demanded a revisit of the project’s litter of outstanding releases. Perhaps the pick of the bunch, is 2004’s A Grand Don’t Come For Free, an album that turns 14 in just a few weeks time. In celebration of its release, and The Streets’ return to form, here’s an in-depth look at of one the decade’s most underrated and important albums.
A Grand Don’t Come For Free takes the form of a concept album, telling the main protagonist’s story involving £1000 (a grand) that goes missing, through a journey of addiction, drug use, heartbreak, isolation and reconciliation. The album begins with the discovery of the money missing, with each following track arising further complications and distractions, until the project is drawn to a close with an eventual solution.
Besides A Grand Don’t Come For Free’s alluring relatable subject matter, and linear structure and narrative, it’s of course Skinner’s hypnotic storytelling, vivid lyricism and authentic vocal performances throughout, that give the project such an organic, realistic execution. From an all-too-relatable pursuit of a girl who worked in JD, to ‘roaching a spliff sitting watching Eastenders’, the project beams authenticity, transcending the listener to a moment in their lives where they’ve most likely experienced the very same moment.
Following a successful courtship of love interest Simone, the subplot of which distracting the protagonist from the missing money, midpoint anthem Blinded By The Lights transforms the so-far sombre storyline into astronomical confines. An off-kilter garage/electronica instrumental provides the soundtrack for one of the album’s many highlights, telling the story of betrayal and intoxication, with ecstasy providing a welcomed distraction from Simone’s infidelity. It’s on Blinded By The Lights where some of Skinner’s most darkly poetic, and all-too-relatable storytelling takes place, explaining how intoxicants can provide a temporary relief to life’s problems, although resulting in further complications down the line.
Musically, the album naturally weaves and smoothes its way through a catalogue of genres, from garage, grime, indie, rock, R&B and pop. From sombre chill-ride Could Well Be In, via back-and-forth rap confrontation Get Out of My House and the riff-powered Fit But You Know It, through to the devastating Dry Your Eyes, the album plugs through a journey of UK-championed genres, ticking off each box along the way.
Perhaps the most poignant moment among the selection of anthems within the tracklisting, comes with penultimate track Dry Your Eyes. Built on a blueprint of film score-level strings and a lonesome garage beat, Dry Your Eyes is the ultimate break-up song, one powered by Skinner’s poetic lyricism. ‘In one single moment your whole life can turn around’ is how one of the album’s conclusive moments begins, a sign of the song’s content to come. And for anyone who’s heart’s been shattered before, lines like ‘trying to pull her close out of bare desperation’ and ‘her eyes glaze over like she’s looking straight through me’, will shake and move you to the core, a torrid reminder of those times of despair and desertion.
With all-things The Streets being shelved throughout the last few years, as a result there’s been little attention paid to A Grand Don’t Come For Free, an album that sounds and feels even more important today, than it did during its 2004 release. The project’s narrative, structure and concept is like nothing the UK scene has seen since, and as a result continues to belong within its own genre and classification. Skinner’s songwriting and lyricism are even more relatable in 2018, and musically, the album still sounds as groundbreaking and pioneering, paying homage to an abundance of UK movements in the process. An undoubted classic, an without a doubt one of the most important albums of the 21st Century.