Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, is a Brummie with a mockney accent who comes across as a largin’-it lad, possible Fiesta XR2 driver (blacked-out windows de rigeur) and general gangsta geezer.
But his British take on Eminem‘s tell-it-as-it-is methodology of music is surprisingly engaging, largely due to intelligent lyrics coupled with a genre-defying plethora of musical styles, from UK garage to ska. However shambolic it looks on paper, it works a treat.
If ever the phrase “urban poet” could be aptly applied to anyone, Skinner would certainly qualify. Current single Let’s Push Things Forward features a chorus that could be about the UK’s Pop Idol culture – “You say that everything sounds the same / Then you go buy them / There’s no excuses my friend / Let’s push things forward”. With organ and brass combining to remind of Madness and a vocal style closer to Phil Daniels in Blur‘s ‘Parklife’ than Marshal Mathers, it is inventive, modern and entertaining. The fact that he’s making pertinent points as well serves to show off what is undoubtedly a major new talent.
There is a rawness and edginess to the production which suggests danger and the unknown could at any point confront the listener. That they never do, but merely threaten, seems intrinsic to what Skinner is saying with this album. It isn’t about the obvious things you see when you are out on the streets, it’s what goes on behind closed doors, in dark corners and in the heads of the people you half-see. It is almost noiresque.
Too Much Brandy is simply about drink, getting drunk and the culture that makes getting drunk an alternative to living a life. Skinner impersonates drunks then offers straightforward advice to them – “you’d better stop drinking brandy”.
Album closer Stay Positive is a message of hope delivered on a tableau of monotonous, melancholy chord sequences and a loop that takes on the caricature urban citizen’s life in its predictability, but sounds like a collection of pub conversations voiced by a bingo caller.
Yet the sheer number of themes he can encapsulate with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark becomes more apparent with each passing listen. Take the following line: “Stop dreaming / People who say that are blaspheming / They’re doing 9-5 and moaning / And they don’t want you succeeding when they’ve blown it.” Erudite it isn’t, but within the mind-warping reality that Skinner reflects on this record it is not only interesting but a little frightening. It is music at the edge in theme, instrumentation and delivery. It is essential. Own it.