Council Estate of Mind

Low Life

espite what his name suggests, Skinnyman isn’t the first pro ana-mia MC. However, like those upchucking 15 year olds counting carbs on their Livejournals, Skinnyman has a lot to say about how the world should be. And that’s not just on wax: nearly half of the inlay booklet on Council Estate of Mind is taken up by a self-penned essay on The State of Britain Today, which reads like the kind of article that Big Issue proofreaders see in their nightmares. “Within the urban societies an unprecedented mass of wealth is generated by the consumer as a result of ever constant, in your face, advertising”. Exactly what I was thinking.

And the hand-wringing continues on the album proper. Council Estate of Mind is a concept album—an admittedly brave move for a debut outing. The tracks are all book-ended by dialogue excerpts from the 1982 TV movie (and Tim Roth’s acting debut) Made In Britain. The idea being that the path of Trevor the Skinhead (Roth’s character) is similar to that of Skinnyman’s: white working class kid has talents but no application, and then embarks on a self-destructive circle of crime. A valid intent, with Skinnyman as the narrator, but unfortunately age has withered Made In Britain (like nearly all other political satire from the Thatcher era), and it becomes hard to maintain a straight face as Roth delivers lines like “You can stick your hairy contract up your hairy arse” or “You’re an arsehole, you’re not worth a piss”.

Looking past all of that, though (and frankly it’s no worse or more intrusive than some hip-hop skits), and getting to the album proper: the reason that this album isn’t, as some are claiming, an album of the year contender is exactly the same reason that this album is being talked up by some as an album of the year contender. Skinnyman has made an album for the streets. The streets of Richmond-Upon-Thames. Too worthy, too chin-stroking, too social worker, too Guardian reader, maybe Skinnyman thinks that he needs to put this into action to prevent a glamourisation of the council estate rudeboy lifestyle? Whatever the case, it leads to yawn-a-thons like “Day To Day Basis” (wherein he namechecks the wrong record label), and “Live In My Rhymes”, which is as good as you’d expect a song called “Live In My Rhymes” to sound.

When he steps down off of the soapbox, though, you can actually appreciate why people are taking this so close to their hearts. Lead single “I’ll Be Surprised” delivers cowboy soul, whilst “It’s Over” is a none-more-hectic mission statement for his posse, Mud Family, featuring the anonymous female vocalist who also turns up on “Love’s Gone From The Streets” and does a mean impression of Kelis. And for an album that kicks off with a track called “Fuck The Hook”, Skinny comes equipped with more hooks than Angling Times, like on “No Big Ting”’s Kanye-copy, or “Who? Me?”’s call and response antics.

And, in the end, the scope and bravery of this album wins you over, and you can make apologies for the occasional lapses into what sometimes sounds like a guest assembly. As the man himself says “I’ve been in this ever since the days of Boogiedown”. He’ll probably be around for a few more.

(Two separate points that don’t fit into the thread of the review proper (call this the DVD bonus section of the review)). Firstly, in Made In Britain, Trevor the Skinhead was a violent racist, arrested for an attack on an Asian-owned corner shop, and dropping racial epiphets throughout the film. From the extracts here, you wouldn’t know that at all, and indeed, they paint him as a near likable character. They’ve removed a whole dimension from the character, and in effect bastardised the script. Secondly, Skinnyman bears a stunning resemblance to former Extreme Championship Wrestling manager “The Man Who Calls It Down The Middle” Bill Alfonso. Just saying, ’s all.

Reviewed by: Dom Passantino

Reviewed on: 2004-08-20

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