Computers and Blues
In the same month that news broke of a certain Take That member’s plan to stage Robbie, the Musical (really), Mike Skinner sensibly pledged that ‘there will be no West End musical of [his second album] A Grand Don’t Come for Free – unless I’ve died young and my family needs the money.’ Skinner’s ‘journey’ from kebab-chomping tearaway to hard-partying pop star would of course make a strong narrative arc, and his rhymes –geezer-good yet insightful and often profoundly poignant – an interesting soundtrack to a night at the theatre. But the bloke who changed the trajectory of British pop has long felt ambivalent about the business of show, and now he’s calling time. On this phase, at least.
You’d expect that The Streets’ fifth LP would see him exit on a punchy, maybe challenging high. But in a recent interview he rated it seven out of 10, stating: ‘I’ve started to repeat myself with this album.’ It’s not so much that as the fact we’re now over familiar with both The Streets’ character and his creator’s musical style. Computers and Blues struggles to find its footing, sounding too much like the result of unfocused fiddling, grafting extras on to Twitter-released demos and general will-this-do-ness. Lyrically, though, there’s much to love. The Streets’ way with a rhyme is still a winner, whether he’s using crosswords as a metaphor for understanding or musing on a scan of his unborn daughter.
Musically, he’s strongest when he fixes on one thing (the Mayfield-like ‘Those That Don’t Know’, the retro house of ‘Puzzled by People’); most disappointing when he mucks about, mixing Game Boy glitch with French filtered house (‘Outside Inside’) or revisiting the ’90s travesty that was UK rap-rock (‘Going Through Hell’). ‘Roof of Your Car’ suggests Skinner as a Billy Bragg for the post-garage generation and we can imagine him moving into band territory. We wish him well, but, yes, he’s wise to lay The Streets to rest.