The title of The Streets new album aptly reads like a Mike Skinner quote in one of his songs—candid, thorough, and slightly sarcastic. You already know what kind of tone will be explored before pressing play on the Tame Impala-assisted “Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better.” It almost sounds too on-the-nose when considering the hopeless connotations surrounding our current world climate.
In the past, Skinner’s music has always felt detail-oriented, particularly when it came to the humdrum energy surrounding his British roots. When he approached something as consequential as romance–as he did on the stellar A Grand Don’t Come For Free-the writing felt intricate and homey. He sounded dejected and urgent, but also grounded in reality thanks to a girl of his liking. The personality he was portraying in his early work felt wholesome and genuine, rather than campy and trite.
On the contrary, None of Us are Getting Out of This Life Alive illustrates Skinner playing a caricature of a cynical middle-aged man, which makes sense on the surface (he IS 40 now), but grows tiresome when engaged with little nuance. It’s a character we should’ve seen coming considering his interview with DIY Magazine from May, in which he bluntly states, “artists don’t change the world” (I beg to differ). His sentiment immediately following this exclamation falls more in line with something I can agree with; the idea that small things can be universal.
He’s made a successful living off of that mantra for years, but on None Of Us, he appears to be approaching his artistry from a macro lens rather than an intimate one. His comprehensive titles can’t seem to stretch beyond their bold implications. The heavy guest list–featuring anywhere from Australian psych-rock hypochondriac Kevin Parker to British rappers like Ms. Banks–acts as ceremonious filler rather than bastions for what Skinner’s trying to say (if anything). Even when they seem on topic, the features operate in their own lane.
The Streets last album Computers And Blues (which came out nine years ago) felt like the end of a fruitful era for most fans and critics, but at least Skinner was trying something more unorthodox and vast. The production never shied away from reaching a more dynamic atmosphere. None Of Us meanwhile comes off more passive and listless. There’s a judgmental awkwardness found on “I Wish You Loved You As Much as You Love Him” that’s only saved by the wistful comfort found in neo-soul savant Greentea Peng’s voice (“Searching for ourselves in one another/You all got all the power you need/Don’t place them in no lover”). Skinner just seems obnoxiously bitter by comparison-“I know he says he’ll change, but maybe you should know/That people never change, they’re just exposed.”
Whereas past escapades saw Skinner using the concept of technology as mechanisms for life-or-death situations to add specific pathos (“Why is the message pending/where the fuck are ya?”), a song like “Phone Is Always in My Hand” appears inconsequential due to contrived sensitivity-“If I say I’m five minutes away and you believe me/That’s your problem/I only want thing from her, personality/Which is good because she certainly has three.” He also oddly connects the fact that none of us want another World War with the idea of not disturbing a woman you may not be ready for. It’s peculiar moments like these that fail to build off of predictable song titles and surface-level reverie. It’s more confusing than anything.
The only title that exposes itself as refreshingly misleading is “Conspiracy Theory Freestyle.” Rather than go down the eye-rolling path of discussing useless political fodder, Skinner actually attempts to vividly express figurative language worth mentioning. The idea that he wants to run from this deceitful world, or how his mind is like a spiraling staircase. It finally sounds like he’s forming a cohesive portrait without trite boredom. It’s too bad moments like these are fleeting for the most part.
The entire album is connected by this familiar trope of being who you are; and if people don’t except that, then they can fuck off. It’s a restless narrative that’s masked by the youthfulness of the guest artists and the subtle complacency by its orchestrater. Skinner almost knows he doesn’t have much to say anymore, so he trades passion for skepticism; detail for dull macrocosms. It’s okay to express annoyance in the midst of what’s going on around us, as done so effortlessly by Briefcvse’s Low Quality Demos tape. But the context and language also matters. On his 10-minute journey, the Massachusetts underground artist finds himself subsumed in the sludge of our decrepit reality. the grainy production makes for a dystopian world. Skinner on the other hand sounds detached from his subject matter, which in turn leads to an uninteresting experience. He’s agnostic and annoyed with the world around him, but also conceptually and lyrically bankrupt.