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The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It was supposed to be so easy 

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A Grand Don't Come for Free is out this week in the States. Here's The New York Times' review isn't comfortable with the music's rough edges. Matos's review in the New Yorker takes a more sophisticated view.

For me, I'm with what the UK bloggaz were saying a couple of weeks ago - it's not that he's musically naive; the awkward loops, the displacement of music and lyrics are completely deliberate (well, obviously), and they create that distance between narrator and the world around him that encaspulates so much of Skinner's world view. All his stories involve a highly articulate, talented narrator who is losing his grip on simple day-to-day life because he fails to communicate. Skinner's music perfectly mirrors - and manifests - that dislocation. His poetry sees things the world as a beautiful thing. Unfortunately the world seems to contrive against that vision (love that inlay photo of Skinner alone in the pub, staring philosophically into the mid-distance with two Becks in his hand). 'Blinded by the Lights' is the perfect example - have you ever heard a more underwhelming house riff? Matching what you feel, what you think, the stories you want to tell with what actually comes out, what actually happens is so very hard, Skinner is telling us (even when it comes down to betting on football). As both narrator and protagonist Skinner struggles with his beats, his rhymes, his Blockbuster account, his pill supplies. Narrator and protagonist are interchangeable, and neither have control.

If anything, the core of A Grand is communication breakdown. It is a constant riff throughout the album: just listen to the spluttering protagonist of 'Get out of my house', or the number of times his phone breaks down; in 'It was supposed to be so easy' a quick phonecall to his mum is one of the primary tasks - and failures - of his day. The moment when everything finally comes right, the turning point in 'Empty Cans', is when he gets a text from Scott, thinks about his reply, and matches communication with communication - not a knee-jerk reaction. And from this point, the music - for the first time on the album - is comforting, stirring, heart-rending. Skinner opened Original Pirate Material with such a synth-orchestral swell like this. Here he saves it to the end, for that final moment when our articulate narrator finally manages to say, in the story, what he meant to say. Far from being a simple send up, as the NYT would have it, this is a genuinely complex record in its own terms.


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