PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.
PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

The Streets: All Got Our Runnins

The Streets
All Got Our Runnins EP

In the early part of the 21st century, there were few people capable of making a claim to UK garage’s worth as anything but an Anglo-oriented club trend that was simply next in line for the fickle, style-conscious British dancefloor elite. Meanwhile, the prospect of anything more than a 12″ by any one of the major artists on the scene being worth listening to would seem like an exercise in self-induced aural torture and futility. Then, in mid-2002, something changed. Mike Skinner, a pale, skinny, Birmingham kid with a dodgy laptop released Original Pirate Material, an actual full LP worth of two-step/garage tracks backing his cockney-fied rhyming “raps”. It had no right to be of any worth, and it certainly had no right to be one of the best albums of the year. But, incredibly it was. Original Pirate Material was filled with stories from the lives of British street youth, and vivid scenes of malcontent. There were Sony Playstations, and take-out food (“shit-in-a-tray” as so memorably put), and weed, and clubs, and all the little intricacies of daily urban life. Oh, and it was bloody hilarious, good fun on top of it. It was the kind of record that you can put on when you’re all alone on a Saturday night playing SSX and feel like you’ve got your mates over having a laugh. And that, my friends, is a good type of record to have around the flat.

So, what better way to follow up the success of a commercially successful and critically acclaimed debut than to release a stopgap EP, before embarking on the arduous and unenviable task of releasing the album’s follow-up? This could, theoretically, go on for ages. Radiohead, for example, have made a career out of being too frightened to properly follow up their critical and commercial breakthrough, OK Computer, so perhaps Skinner is on to something here. A new career path, a new paradigm, the possibilities are endless?

In Skinner’s defense, All Got Our Runnins is an “Internet exclusive EP”. Meaning, you can only download it (it’s available on iTunes, Napster, and the like), and it is certainly not available in your local record shop, which gives even further credence to the belief that Skinner is pleading, “don’t judge my new material! It’s just a toss off, not even worth creating proper packaging for actually?” However, in listening to All Got Our Runnins, the poor lad’s got himself all worked up over nothing really! Go ahead and download it, it’s quite good!

Now, in reality, there are only three new songs out of the eight cuts that make up All Got Our Runnins. The haunting and cinematic confession, “Streets Score”, the hilarious and strangely addicting “Give Me Back My Lighter”, and the title track. The rest of the EP is rounded out by remixes and an instrumental (of “Streets Score”). Although to be fair, the remixes contain brand new guest vocals from the likes of Dizzee Rascal and total reworkings by the likes of High Contrast, creating almost entirely new songs out of familiar favorites (“Let’s Push Things Forward” and “Has It Come to This” respectively, the latter even going so far as being cleverly renamed, “It’s Come to This”).

“Give Me My Lighter Back” and “All Got Our Runnins” are every bit as strong as anything on Original Pirate Material, so if you’re skeptical about downloading the new songs, fearing that it’s either left over scraps from the OPM sessions or quickly tossed off B-side type material, fear not, it’s top-notch stuff.

The remixes are so re-worked and creative, that they are almost completely new tracks in and of themselves. Mr. Figit gives “Don’t Mug Yourself” a playful new edge while also adding additional vocals, while Roll Deep and Dizzee Rascal completely rework “Let’s Push Things Forward”, rendering it nearly, and happily, unrecognizable from its original incarnation.

House producer Ashley Beedle’s “Weak Become Heroes” remix attempts to create a genuine (and pretty straightforward) dancefloor remix of the OPM standout. Although it’s not as exciting as the before-mentioned remixes, it’s enjoyable enough, and benefits tremendously from the original composition’s utter quality.

Closing out the EP is the Eminem-like “Street’s Score”. Book ending the proceedings nicely as the song’s backing track introduces things early on, “Streets Score” is the most honest, and direct track here. A measured response to critics who accuse Skinner of being a phony and peddling tales of “deep-seeded urban decay” from his suburban bedroom, Skinner lets it all hang out: “I’m a fake I don’t live the streets / But there’s only so many hours in the day / And I use ’em to make beats”. Later he admits to not knowing what half of “Has It Come To This” means, and defends his music’s subjects with lines like, “Does my life sound as interesting as a fight in a chip shop / I think not”. By the time the track closes out, Skinner wants to “just get back to the stories”. And I’d have to agree. Especially, when they’re as good as these.