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The Streets

A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic)

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Historically, English crossovers shelter the nuances we Yankees find so easy to mock. Indeed, the best-loved expats (Wham!, for example) conquered xenophobia by sounding like us in song and avoiding references too British.

That changed in the late '90s, when drum & bass, jungle, and Brit-hop became the vogue. Brixton, "wanker," angst for the queen -- we couldn't get enough. Jump to 2002 -- the Streets (mixmaster Mike Skinner) arrived, delivering hip-hop heavy on garage and trance, the newest U.K. imports. Skinner's Original Pirate Material blurred rap, rock, and electronica in a more abstract way than that of its Tricky-like predecessors; it was also darker than goofy garage.

A Grand Don't Come for Free, the Streets' new venture, continues what Skinner pioneered -- fast, humorously morose narratives over jagged, stop-and-go beats. One Skinner hallmark is to rhyme over a track that doesn't "match" the flow of the music; cuts like "It Was Supposed to Be So Easy" demonstrate this clever albeit challenging formula. This is not dance music. The album does, however, contain some simply groovable grooves: tracks like "Get Out of My House" and "Fit but You Know It," where Brit slang, dadaist turns in sound, and a jaded street ethos collide to make enjoyable music, even if it is foreign to us.

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