Tuesday, May 11, 2004

There are no prizes for coming second

Tom Ewing's Popular Project looks awesome. He is reviewing the UK's 950+ Number One singles since 1952, in order. He's up to 1960 at the moment. It's a staggeringly ambitious project, so all power to him for doing it. His reviews, currently charting a period of music in which I have no interest at all, yet he still writes engagingly. A keeper.

Meantime, some initial thoughts on The Streets LP. It's dazzling. If Wiley's Treddin' was a surprise because the lyrical content was bouncier and more charming than the icy promise of the music and the 'cold in my heart' brags, then A Grand Don't Come For Free is absolutely fascinating for the fact that at times the narrative seems to swallow the music entirely. It's closest comparison (by my way of looking at it) is Posy Simmonds' incredible graphic novel, 'Gemma Bovary' which, although using a format readily identifiable (in her case, the comic - in Mike Skinner's, the concept album) twists out of it's genre by the force of its sheer narrative genius. Skinner's record is as much as a talking book as a pop record. I've heard snooty critics disparaging the simplicity of Mike's plot (boy loses money, boy finds girl, boy loses girl, boy finds money) and suggesting that - if we are going to call it a (grimace) concept LP - then it is lacking in conceptual ambition.

Quite to the contrary, the album is brilliantly observant and hilariously frank, a considerable achievement whether your plot is as complex as an Umberto Eco novel or as stark as one of Magnus Mill's parables (you see, I can't compare it to, say, Dizzee or Eminem - although the abiding musical echo I hear in the record is Terry Hall, another wonderful storyteller).

I was writing back cover copy for a book the other day and included the quote - "Stories are quite insistent on one point: a tale is not over until it is finished in every detail". A Grand Don't Come For Free has a beginning, a middle and an ending. Actually, two endings.

It's a brilliant record.

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