Despite his rather dodgy taste in sportswear and baseball caps, there are many reasons to admire Mike Skinner. He wrote Dry Your Eyes for a start, one of the greatest singles of the last five years. Also, rather like his American counterpart Eminem, he’s quite happy to use his considerable power to bring a whole load of new acts into the mainstream.
The Mitchell Brothers first came to Skinner’s attention when the South London siblings saw him in a queue at a cash machine and slipped a demo tape in his pocket. A few months later, they’ve become the first signing to Skinner’s own label The Beats, and their debut album, while inevitably not matching up to the heights of their mentor, indicates a bright future for Teddy and Tony Mitchell.
It’s fair to say though that the more delicate ears will be turned off by A Breath Of Fresh Attire. This is raw, heavy stuff, laced with enough profanities to make Goodfellas look like an episode of Balomory. The uncompromisingly titled opening track, Fuck Me Fuck You gives a fair idea of the tone of the album – the Mitchells swap insults over a raw, grimy beat while bickering over football and girls. “Do I look like I’ve got c*nt written on my forehead?” goes one lyric.
For those who get past the swearing though, there’s much to delight. The said opening track namechecks both Channel 4’s Popworld and Liverpool Football Club, which surely must be a first. The music may be rough and aggressive, but there’s also an energy and effervescence that’s really infectious.
Routine Check is probably the Mitchells at their most incendiary. If there can be an English version of NWA‘s legendary F*ck Tha Police, then this is it. A defiant response to the police’s Stop & Search policy, it probably won’t make them many friends at the Daily Mail, but a whole generation of black youths will find much to identify with. The appearance of both Mike Skinner and Grime’s latest rising star Kano gives the track added prestige.
Early single Harvey Nicks covers similar ground but Sway’s guest spot rather steals the show with some truly hilarious lyrics (“A little girl with a pen ran up to me and said “I know who you are”/But when I gave her my autograph she said “Mum, is this how you spell Lemar?”). It’s rather disappointing that the song dips into misogyny towards the end with pointless insults of “slag”, but it’s still a great song.
To tell the truth, over a whole album, the raw aggression and sense of simmering violence can get a bit wearying. Also, in common with many debut albums, there is quite a bit of filler, such as the football tale of When The Whistle Blows or the rather plodding Smart Bastard. So it’s a real treat when Teddy and Tony show their softer side and produce something like the masterful She’s Got It All Wrong. Featuring a heart rendering piano riff, the Brothers tell a tale of a relationship break up that rivals The Streets’ Dry Your Eyes or It’s Too Late. And it mentions Trisha and gets away it, adding bonus points.
Alone With The TV similarly plucks at the heartstrings – only ruined by the current vogue to employ a speeded up ‘chipmunk’ vocal as popularised by Akon‘s Lonely which proves very irritating. These times where the Mitchells drop the bravado and aggression are the biggest highlights of the album and give a glimpse into why Skinner rates them so highly.
A Breathe Of Fresh Attire, while not being an easy listen, is certainly a rewarding one. If you can get past the almost constant swearing and raw musical style, there’s much to enjoy. If all the acts on The Beats are of this quality, Skinner could well have a successful second career as a record label mogul.