When Mike Skinner put The Streets to an end in 2011 following the release of the Computers And Blues album, it seemed initially as if the outfit would not release any meaningful material again, leaving Skinner’s legacy as one of the most important voices on British culture and politics from the UK Garage scene and in British popular music. Yet in a career spanning nearly 20 years, Skinner has thrived on collaboration, including with The D.O.T.
So when in 2017 The Streets reconvened for a series of festival appearances and tours, dropping a series of singles along the way, a new album was much anticipated. None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive, officially billed as a mixtape, is the result. It blends heavy urban sounds and an assortment of featured artists’ takes on Skinner’s beats and words, among them Tame Impala, Idles frontman Joe Talbot, and Ms Banks. They bring their own twists to what turns out to be Skinners’ most eclectic record yet.
Ever since his rise to fame in the early 2000s with the groundbreaking albums Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Skinner’s music has provided a go-to social commentary on issues of family, austerity and urban life as a young man. This latest release is more of the same familiar gritty commentary, but done from a position of earned wisdom. On it Skinner highlights the control inflicted by our phones on our daily lives, the misplaced affection for irreverent politicians trying to be ‘of the people’, and the problems of poverty and consumer capitalism.
Tracks like I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him provide a clear example of Skinner’s angle. Featuring Donae’O and Greentea Peng, it attempts to unpick self-reflection. The political undertones of this lie in its shot at the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, and how the irreverent yet charming nature of their character appeals to some, allowing the political egos of such prominent politicians to fool the public. Skinner shines a light on how this powerful political message goes beyond music, reflecting a broader political image via multimedia platforms.
In fact, political messages feature throughout the album; Skinner doesn’t dare to shine away from the hot political topics of today (pre-covid-19, of course). The title track, featuring the bellowing Joe Talbot, is a bass-filled anthem of pure aggression, with the title proof enough of the angry sentiment being communicated. The world railed against in this polemic-anthem is one of “the people who drink to be interesting”, “the Audi drivers, the drink spikers”, all examples of the nastiness that occurs on the other, perhaps unseen, side of town. It oozes a vehement nihilism that acknowledges the inescapable nature of modern life for some, yet urges a means to revolt against it.
Skinner has matured remarkably over the past two decades, and None of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive is a refreshing marker of his evolution from shy hopeless lad to eloquent wordsmith, and it is packed with poetic realism that tells an inconvenient truth. In all, nine years was well worth the wait to see Skinner return to form.