The Streets – [Album]

Friday, 11 February 2011

In the hip-hop genre, retirement carries about as much irreversible significance these days as death does in comic book mythology. Mike Skinner, however, has claimed that the 'hip hop' genre hat is one less he'll be wearing. The man  is moving on to greener pastures while the moniker he's made his mark on the world with is being put out to the old one.
The title of The Streets’ swan song, Computers & Blues, works as both a nod to Skinner's working methods – hopped up on recording technology and facilitated by pharmaceuticals – and a backward examination of the lineage of modern music. There is also the third, and more intriguing, explanation that it could be a goofy reference to Purple Rain-era Prince, a man who has gone to great lengths to dissect the concept of retiring.

After the thoroughly embarrassing Everything Is Borrowed, this final album is something of a return to form in what is apparently the nick of time, but there is a drop in the overall listenability of the record compared to his initial winning trilogy of albums that suggests The Streets’ name has visited the well one time too many and Skinner is right to drown the fucker. As an MC, he comes off better when taking a backseat to his own production ideas; his vocal stylings often translating as either listless or overeager and sappy. When he’s up to the latter (as on “Roof of your Car”), the record veers uncomfortably close to the Club Med anthems that brought down his last effort. Throughout the album, even when he sounds most inspired, very little of the lyrics jump out with anything much worth saying. “Blip on a Screen,” one of the few tracks to place Skinner front and center is an album highlight, sporting a desolate beat that manages to find something uplifting in its' own isolation, hearkening back to a song like “Blinded by the Lights.”

Skinner has always embodied a persona that veers between arrogant playboy and self-conscious shut-in, both in the lyrics he writes and the delivery he affords them and musically, he has often tried to have it both ways; balancing the grit and grime of his origins with a sound more palatable to radio programmers. It isn’t a matter of going out of his way to write hook-based music. His songs have rarely tapped out when it came time to sell the big chorus, even if said chorus was drenched in saccharine and Velveeta on the occasional earlier track and most of the running time of Everything Is Borrowed. There’s a sleazy zeal, however, to “We Can Never Be Friends” that recalls the worst kind of swaggering sentimentality that Kid Rock has been known to peddle or, worse, his imbecilic protégé Uncle Kracker. That song is disappointingly bogged down even further by the presence of Robert Harvey, late of the band The Music, who actually manages to provide Computers & Blues with two of its' better hooks on “Soldiers” and the album’s lead single “Going Through Hell.”

When Skinner breaks away from his usual narrative flow on “ABC,” he offers a clever distraction from the record’s bigger shortcomings, even if the song calls to mind the wildly superior “Chemical Calisthenics” by Blackalicious. The track is surely a noble attempt at breaking stride, if not ground, but isn’t quite encouraging enough to suggest much beyond mere novelty. Even if he’s possibly lost sight of that himself, Mike Skinner is better than that. Here’s hoping the day comes when he finds a new way to express that fact.



The Streets – “Going Through Hell (Diplo mix)”


Computers & Blues is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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