Funny how I gave Mike Skinner’s, better known as The Streets’ (or as the band’s front man,) music an honest chance right when his “last album” in Computers and Blues dropped Tuesday. The UK artist’s retirement stems from fulfilling his contract obligations as well admitting his creativity well ran dry three albums ago. It remains to be seen if that’s true going by so many other failed “retirements” in the industry. However, his output to this point and polarizing effect is worth noting and makes him an interesting character to observe from across the pond.
The Streets’ music is a tough sell. Much of it has to do with his flow and penchant for featuring his vocals on hooks. That’s definitely the case for me as these aspects got in the way of enjoying his music at first. Admittedly, my ears are tuned to hearing bars in rhythm. Therefore his unorthodox take on rapping initially sent mixed signals. I remember asking myself “is he deliberately rapping off beat or does he have problems keeping count?” as I played song after song. It just seemed bizarre and I was halfway ready to move on to something else.
Nevertheless, I trudged forth and found some gems. He initially managed to keep me listening largely with the everyman themes of Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free. His flair for production often compliment his lyrical idiosyncrasies on these projects as well. Such is evident on tracks like “Has It Come To This,” “Irony Of It All” and “It Was Supposed To Be So Easy.” “Blinded By The Light,” one of my favorites from that era, is actually the first song of his that resonated with me a few years ago thanks to it’s timely placement in Kidulthood. It’s a chapter of a larger tale in A Grand Don’t Come For Free where the protagonist expects to hear from his girlfriend and his boy at a party. Then minutes turn into hours while he gets wasted; wondering when they’ll show up. It’s here where his distinct patterns and pulsing beat make for one of the best songs, and videos, of his career.
His fan base strayed a bit over his next two albums in The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living and Everything Is Borrowed.Hardest Way especially moved from his roots in layman’s tunes and tread down the usual themes of travails that come with fame…and “justifying” destroying hotel rooms. But I found some redeeming records within. Memento Mori and “Two Nations” keep up his endeavors in English humor sprinkled in his earlier albums. The LP sounds a bit self important which is obviously the point. All things considered it isn’t as memorable as the rest of his library although hearing his real accent on “Fake Streets Hats” was (unintentionally?) comical.
Everything is Borrowed stepped further away from Skinner’s garage lineage and features more alt. rock-themed sounds. The album’s title track is a bit and video show growth and set the tone for the motivational piece. The Way of the Dodo stood out to me, oddly enough, by following the rules. Skinner kept a traditional delivery throughout and made for a nice change of pace from his prior work. Then the project keeps moving along until it’s capped off well with “The Escapist’s” airy sing a long epilogue. I can see why his fans’ response to it wasn’t overwhelming in that it’s not as “groundbreaking” as his first two albums. If anything, I found it more enjoyable than Hardest Way.
Reviewing Skinner’s nearly decade-long career at a glance is straight up academic. Nonetheless his style screams “Screw it. I’m gonna rhyme and make beats how I want” and, at it’s brightest moments, seemed weirdly endearing. More importantly, I see all the reasons why I’m not supposed to like his material from his technique to the fact that I don’t fit his target audience. Yet his strongest efforts in OPM and A Grand… provide a nice break from my current hip-hop monotony. I’ve yet to hear Computer’s and Blues in its entirety so the jury’s still out on that. At any rate, it’s kind of inopportune to chuck deuces right when I was “getting” the method behind The Streets’ madness.