Review Summary: Skinner and disappointment
The story of Mike Skinner's musical career is one told through pictures – or to be specific, his album covers. Original Pirate Material
was the desire to break out, to remove himself from the rat race and the daily struggle. That one photo of a building filled to the brim with souls treading through their existence day in and day out was all you needed to know about Skinner's intentions and hopes; that there was more to be had than what was contained within those four paint stripped walls. A Grand Don't Come For Free
was the man on a journey, a goal in sight and a destination to reach. He knew how to get there, he just needed the momentum one more time to get him across the distance. That goal was success, the destination, of course, was the top. Forget talk of “cult classic, not bestseller
”, the man wanted the gold, and wouldn't settle for anything less. And he found it, as all the acclaim and praise heaped upon him after his sophomore release will reveal. Whether what he found wasn't to his liking, or that maybe it was simply a case of Mike not being adequately prepared or suited for the role of being a “UK ambassador
”, but the art for The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living
would reveal that, even with the fame safely secured (along with all the benefits that come with it) he appeared lost, unsure of his next movements. And of course the album cover for Everything Is Borrowed
shows his desire to be somewhere else yet again, only this time the desired destination was the complete opposite of his previous aspirations, somewhere far removed from the cameras and the spotlights. Whether or not that album cover revealed somewhere within his grasp or something fabricated and unattainable (an oasis of his own imagination perhaps), that distinct urge that he no longer wanted to be in the very situation he had put himself into was felt even before the music began.
This is a story that can also be traced through his music, but this is much more of an obvious revelation. The first two albums were the bangers, the scene setters. Odes to his upbringing and his roots, poems to his environments and culture, love letters to his city and his memories. The third was the rebellion, the shakedown; and the fourth was the reflective statement, the recollection of everything that had come to pass during his musical odyssey. Now, there's a small addition to be added here before the story continues for another chapter, and that, of course, is that this will in fact be the last chapter in the saga that is The Streets. It's incredibly interesting and thought provoking to listen to an album that you will know will be the artist's last, at least, in his current form. It's even more strange that it would follow such a deeply personal and introspective album as his former; that is, if he's looked deep into himself and spelled it all out on paper for us, what does he have left to say? Do you continue down the path that you've been walking for the last three years now? Or do you return back to your beginnings and go on the semi-aggressive bend again? How do you set something like that up, knowing how intensely people will be scrutinizing your last outing? How do you present yourself that one last time? Well, looking at the cover for Computers and Blues
it would seem that Mike Skinner has come full circle. Or, he's come right back to where he was before, only this time he's managed to elevate himself just a little higher. And if he has squandered away the last twelve years only to return right back to the beginning, wouldn't that artwork suggest that he doesn't really have anything to show for it, save for a slightly higher spot on the food chain? Is that why he sounds like he just has nothing to say anymore? Actually, is that why he doesn't
have anything to say anymore?
Mike Skinner no longer sounds like the aggressive young lad with everything to prove and the means to accomplish it anymore. That insatiable hunger to push things forward seems to have been quenched one and for all, and left in its place is just a tired man fed up with the connotations that the moniker he has chosen to operate under has bought him. The obvious by-product of all this newly found weariness and self-inflicted musical depression is that the man just sounds tired, unable to adequately fulfill his obligations as the speakerbox for what has now evolved into a fully fledged group, but still shamefacedly attempting to cling on – even if it is for just one more time. But why should the Mike Skinner of today sound like the Mike Skinner of the late 90's? Things have obviously changed, as Skinner will be the first to tell you. The obvious answer would be that he's finally grown up. As with every mc playing the time game, the clock is only going to allow so much before your farcical anecdotes just sound contrite and immature. Before he could make an entire album about misplacing a thousand dollars and the subsequent search and reclaim for it, and he could pull it off with a grin and a cheeky look in his eye. Here he wallows in sorrow at being invited into a relationship only to be overcome with sorrow that her facebook page reveals that she's already in a relationship...... perhaps Computers and Blues
is just a simple allegory for depression on the internet then? So while you might think that Skinner has finally arrived at that point in his life where he's realized that it's time to take things just a little more seriously, you'd be dead wrong.
Perhaps it's a little uncivil to spend so much time comparing Skinner's latest to his more formative days, especially given the transformation he's undergone as a musician, but he built himself a legacy with his first two records, and he seemed to do it without batting an eyelid, without even straining himself or attempting to be anything more than what he already was. And Skinner the lyricist hasn't changed all that much to be fair; his basic template is still gloriously intact, though now a little fractured. There are moments here where he almost comes to grips with the fact that it's time to grow up (like when he talks about his unborn son on 'Blip On A Screen'), but for the most part he's still handing out the same quasi-inspirational pub poetry that he's been spouting since day one. Before his anthems for the average joe were simple and easy to digest (such as 'Dry Your Eyes'), here he spouts out lackluster lines like “You can't google the solutions to your problems
”, as if he 's realized that he can't simply hide or run away anymore like you just know that he wants to. He's like that permanent addition to the local pub constantly dribbling out words of wisdom and lines to live by, yet as he says them to you you realize that he can't be living by them himself, because he's here every night trying to forget.
There are moments when it sounds like Skinner might actually be able to pull a victory out of his hat, but they're so few and far between that they're not enough to hold this shocking mess of bad ideas together. Truth be told, it's really only the music that warrants the only amount of praise here, as Skinner has finally decided to veto sampling altogether and employ a full time band. They manage to bring a certain amount of warmth to the monotonous vocal delivery, and add something of a charming personality to the whole package, but it just isn't enough to save the sinking ship that The Streets have become. Computers and Blues
is the final nail in the coffin for Mike Skinner, all of it his own doing but only half of it because he actually wanted to. For every one, who when asked about The Streets, would generally say “yeah, I loved their first two records” this will just be another excuse to remain a fan of the band at a time when they actually had something relatively noteworthy to talk about. As I look at this album and ponder its very existence I wonder how anyone could possibly return to the fold one more time knowing that he obviously didn't want to. Yes he said that this was to be his last album, and that he was “***ing sick” of all the connotations that came with the moniker, but it's more than that; you can hear it in every word of every line of every sentence of every dire track that forms this poor excuse for a final outing – he just doesn't sound like he wants to be here. So why do it? Why put yourself, and your few remaining fans through this ordeal one more time? And all I can come up with is that he was forced to do it. The man did sign a five record deal, and had so far only delivered on four of the promises. And if that is the only reason why this album exists; well, what a terrible way to end a career.