Focus On: The Return of The Streets
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
A look at the welcomed comeback of UK Garage favourites The Streets. The early success, the return, and the highlights of 'None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive'.
Mike Skinner is back with a Garage bang. 'None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive' is The Streets new record featuring a host of collaborators and quirky lines about relationships, technology and self-confidence.
You can listen to the new album on Spotify and YouTube.
Original Pirate Material, you're listening to The Streets...
A decade and a half ago, Mike Skinner’s UK Garage rap project The Streets were firmly imprinted on the British music mainstream.
UK radio stations in the early 00s were dominated by American Hip Hop, Pop and Rock. British artists were in the minority, and those who did make it far did so trying sound American. For that reason, no one saw the coming of an underground ‘geezer’ from Birmingham to be battling it out at the top of the charts.
The everyman quality of The Streets struck a chord with the British 'lad culture’ of the day. The songs commentated on relatable topics from cheap package holidays, to drinking, fights and relationships.
2004’s ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ was a rap concept album, the story of a man down on his luck. It began with the protagonist Mike mysteriously losing £1,000, and follows on as he enters a relationship with a girl called Simone.
They move in together, before falling out and Mike even considers cheating on her on a lads holiday. Little does he realise that Simone has cheated on him with his best friend, and this results in falling out with all his mates. Added to that was a painful breakup. Lonesome Mike, bitter and angry at the world.
The story ends with Mike finding the £1,000 inside his TV and his life turning around. It's hardly high brow stuff, but it's a simple first person narrative told brilliantly. I remember on first listen hanging onto every word, feeling a sense of glee that things were going to work out for him. It's not often, an album brings that emotion about a character within it, but for 50 minutes he was your best mate.
Chant along anthems ‘Fit But You Know It’ were matched by sad break up songs, ‘Dry Your Eyes’ (above). The album debuted at number 1 in the UK Charts and went platinum four times over. Over the summer of 2004, you simply couldn't escape the infectious songs and rumour has it 'Dry Your Eyes' had a delayed release to coincide with England's inevitable knock out at the 2004 Euros!
A couple of years earlier, The Streets had broken through with ‘Original Pirate Material’, later considered a British Hip Hop and Garage classic. Songs like ‘Turn The Page’ and “Has It Come To This’ (below) sound melancholic, poetically describing the working class surroundings (‘Sex, drugs ’n on the dole’) of a youthful Mike Skinner. The album proved that the UK could have a distinctive Hip Hop scene of it's own and coincided with the growing popular musical confidence of the country at the time.
After a couple more album releases, that youthful exuberance and quick wit gradually turned to jadedness. 2011’s ‘Computers And Blues’ was the final straw for poor Mike. Feeling he had nothing left to give, he called it a day.
That was until 2017 when it was suddenly revealed that Mike Skinner had rekindled his love of music. With his batteries recharged, a couple of new singles were released and headline tours across the UK sold out within minutes.
Anticipation grew for a new album. And here we are two and a half years later.
First album in nine years
It's 2020 and The Streets have finally pulled another album out the bag. Upon announcement, comparisons to the old were inevitable. How would the passing of time impact itself on 40-year-old, father of two Mike Skinner?
And well, the the result is better than initially expected. The references to ‘lad culture’ and the 20-something lifestyle may have diminished somewhat, but there’s a new found versatility to the music that still maintains the witty lines and beats of old.
Mike Skinner admits on ‘You Can’t Afford Me’ that ‘I don’t party hard / but when I do, yes, I party hard’. He’s changed but there’s still time, now and again, for the younger man he used to be.
And that’s an appropriate metaphor for the new style. There’s still of glimpses of old, but evolution was always inevitable.
‘An album of rap duets’
Skinner has modestly referred to this album as ‘an album of rap duets’, being quick to share the acclaim with the dozen or so contributors.
The reach is wide and well thought out. There’s established acts in the form of Idles and Tame Impala on the opening two tracks on the album, before a more familiar sound reveals itself.
There's a clear love affair with London sound and underground culture, and this is reflected in the showcasing of new artists from that region. South London rapper Kasien features on ‘Eskimo Ice’, as well as appearances of Tottenham-born rapper Oscar #Worldpeace, South East female R&B singer Greentea Penger and many, many others.
Over the darker production of ‘Same Direction’ (above), 21-year-old Camden rapper Jimothy delivers a deadpan, muffled verse in an unexpected highlight. Another name for the future worth taking note of.
To prove he hasn’t forgotten his roots, there’s a platform laid out for Birmingham underground artists. Grime MC Dapz On The Map contributes to ‘Phone Is Always In My Hand’ and Brummie producer Chris Lorenzzo provides heavy Jungle/Drum and Bass production on the finale ‘Take Me As i Am’.
The appearance of the collaborators on each track adds a freshness to the album, ensuring The Streets never lose their edge. At the same time, it still feels like The Streets. It’s a unique sound, complimented by an array of welcomed guests. It works brilliantly.
What are the highlights?
'Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better' & 'Phone Is Always In My Hand'
When it was announced on 1st April 2020 that The Streets and Tame Impala were collaborating on a new track, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was an April Fool’s joke. But no, true to their word, little over two weeks later the track arrived with a music video.
The result is a witty song dealing with the themes of social distancing, lethargy, self-esteem and, most importantly, our over reliance on technology
Kevin Parkers' dreamy psych vocals provide the chorus, defensively declaring, ‘I was going to call you up, I swear / just as long as I felt up to it’. Written down, the lyrics don’t appear to say much, but listening to the track, Parker’s delicate voice offers a counter-balance to Skinner’s harsher Birmingham accent.
Mike Skinner delivers some great lines on this song of his own. One ridiculous, yet oddly memorable, is the ironic, ‘love isn’t a riddle, love isn’t made to be hard / you know I’d give you my kidney / just don’t ever take my charger’.
Skinner promotes dance floor self confidence in the fourth verse with the line, ‘dance like no one is awkward, to music listened to lit / you’d worry less about what they thought / if you knew how little they did’. It's one of the most powerful on the album.
Yes, it may be a left field collaboration, with two personalities you’d never have imagined working together but, by the end, you’re glad Mike Skinner slid into Kevin Parker's DMs to ask the collab question.
‘Phone Is Always In My Hand’, again deals with disconnection caused by an obsession with one’s phone.
Respect to Mike Skinner for his ability to rhythm the line, ‘You’re ignoring me / but you’re watching my stories’. He's mastered this technique years before, emphasising certain parts of words and shaping them to rhythm with words you would never have expected. It's the sign of a rapper skilled in his craft, even at the most absurd.
'None Of Us Are Getting Out of this Life Alive'
The second track on the album is the self titled album, ‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’. It’s a collaboration with British punk band Idles, and Mike Skinner, again, shows his versatility. The feel of the song is catered to the partnership. An underlying feel of grittiness appropriate for the welcomed guests.
The song opens with Garage beats and witty lines from Skinner (‘some people drink to be interesting / some people drink to be interested’), then moving onto a verse from the Idles frontman.
The rough vocals of Joe Talbot fit the song perfectly, delivering a politically charged verse against the Far Right, the need for modesty and choosing your friends carefully (‘never seen with the drink spikers’).
Whilst the Tame Impala collaboration came out the blue, this one was always on the cards. In January 2019, Idles performed a very raw punk mash up of cover songs from The Streets’ early work in a set on Radio 1’s Live Lounge. The mash up is memorable but extremely unpolished. With time in the studio, the two styles are merged and mastered here.
'I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Loved Him' & 'You Can’t Afford Me'
The promotion of self confidence and self esteem is carried on the third track, ‘I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Loved Him’ (below).
In a more traditional UK garage style than the opening, it’s a catchy song carrying a message to a girl obsessed with a boy who mistreats her.
Skinner opens the song with a clear message, ’I wish you loved you as much as you loved him / so kiss his picture and chuck it in the bin’
The song showcases the talent of London singer Greentea Peng, who is given the platform to deliver smooth advice filled r’n’b lines. It’s the first garage banger on the album and a clear highlight.
‘You Can’t Afford Me’ is an appropriate follow on from the latter track. It begins with a reggae style chorus by singer Wayne Bennett, immediately followed by heavier Garage beats and Mike Skinners’ opening verse.
The star of the show is London rapper Ms Banks and her sass-filled verse, promoting self-love and not settling for less than you deserve.
The verse ends with a witty British metaphor about maintaining high standards, ‘Nah, I ain’t gonna ‘low you, mate / Not even a little / I’m from M&S babes / You got a better chance at Lidl’s’.
‘The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer’
The eighth track, ‘The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer’ follows a different mood from the rest of the album.
The word ‘resentment’ is repeated over the chorus, as a disgruntled Mike Skinner hits the scene. He's a conflicted character during the songs opening, ‘there’s several ways that this is gonna go bad / the devil says he misses me and wants me back’.
Mike describes his lost hope and bitterness through the track, and its' darker style ensure it's a highlight.
What's the judgement?
From this record, it’s clear that there’s still a place for Mike Skinner at British music’s top table. It's a collection of fun, Garage Hip Hop songs, Jungle beats and great collaborations.
It’s an album which grows on you with each listen and one that finds plenty of interesting moments and quirky lines around each corner.
It may not be a sharp as 'Original Pirate Material' or possess the storytelling of 'A Grand Don't Come For Free', but it’s a welcomed return.
Nine years on and Mike Skinner has his mojo back. Great job, geezer.