Almost two decades since he first shot to fame, Mike Skinner’s legendary project stumbles into 2020 in disheartening fashion, proving that sometimes it is just best to quit when you’re ahead.
It can be said that after the release of their first two critically acclaimed albums The Streets never managed to quite replicate the magic of Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free. This is reflected in Mike Skinner’s attitude towards this project, he’s quoted as saying he was “fucking sick” of the name and all associations that came along with it. That is to say, that he wouldn’t revisit the Streets unless he was forty and broke. Whilst I’m not aware of Skinner’s financial situation and he’s a year late at forty-one years old; The Streets are back.
Any good faith I had towards new mixtape None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Alive was immediately quashed in the opening seven seconds by Kevin Parker on opening track Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better. The man behind Tame Impala sounds laughably out of place against Skinner’s signature deadpan delivery. References to phones will be a constant throughout the album as Skinner clumsily attempts to critique his own and everyone else’s relationship with their phone.
Things do not get much better on the second track featuring punk band IDLES. Whilst the beat is an interesting blend of both artists’ styles, it still feels incredibly rough around the edges. With IDLES frontman’s Joe Talbot sounding incredibly uncomfortable trying to settle into the groove of the track which easily ends up being one of the weakest on the mixtape. The song almost sounds like there was a mix up of roles, Talbot’s verse is delivered flatly whilst Skinner attempts to shout and provide energy which seems totally backwards considering each performers strengths.
‘The album fails to pick up as Skinner sounds like a caricature of himself, never settling into a rhythm and ultimately coming off more clunky than cool.’
Over the course of the next three tracks, the album fails to pick up as Skinner sounds like a caricature of himself, never settling into a rhythm and ultimately coming off more clunky than cool. This is most exposed on I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him, perhaps the album’s biggest flop. Skinner’s vocals are grating in comparison to the witty and cheeky Skinner that shot to fame in the early 2000s. It’s a shame Skinner ruins the bouncy jungle beat in this way, especially since Greentea Peng delivers a great laidback performance, managing to sound effortlessly cool in a way Skinner seems to have lost.
It’s not really until Phone Is Always In My Hand that the mixtape begins to pick up, not only in the quality of the instrumentals but in Skinner’s delivery. There’s also a clear improvement in the features, many of them taking the spotlight from Skinner. It suggests a promising future for Skinner as the artists he brought together all contribute positively to the record and perhaps indicates he’d be more fitted to taking the backseat on mixtapes, allowing younger rappers to flourish under his direction.
Lyrically Skinner seems a lot less sharp than on earlier records. A bulk of the album focuses around our relationships with our phones, but he rarely manages to scratch below surface level observations. At one point Skinner discusses how smartphones can be used to ignore people “The phone is ringing, the phone is ringing , Can't use it 'til it stops”, but this insight has so little substance it’s barely worth saying. Instead of saying anything important, Skinner sounds more like someone who thinks saying “isn’t it ironic how social networks make us anti-social” is really clever.
‘Skinner’s vocals are grating in comparison to the witty and cheeky Skinner that shot to fame in the early 2000s.’
One of the strengths of this record is the expansive palette of sounds used. Whilst successful returns are made to the garage sound, Skinner also explores more conventional UK hip-hop beats. Some experiments are less fruitful with the final track on the album Take Me As I Am being an incredibly generic D&B song. Nonetheless I’m sure it will get played across nightclubs in Britain, as sunglasses clad lads aggressively chew along to the beat. And as that song fades out Mike Skinner has really failed to convince me why The Streets needed to make a reappearance.