Mike Skinner's stories are spun around everyday events and locations
‘THE BIG QUESTION IS HOW TO HANG ONTO THE EXCITMENT YOU HAD BEFORE BECOMING SUCCESSFUL'
‘It was supposed to be so easy’ ‘It was Supposed to be so Easy’ 2004
econd albums. Someone. somewhere.
who made an absolute arse of their
sophomore long player made tip some tripe about the second album being the hardest record to make. What about the first album’.’ You‘re naive and excitable. with too many ideas and complete lack of discipline and experience on just how to properly express them (hello Radiohead. hello Beck). ()r what about the third one‘.’ That time when you‘ve exhausted the winning formula and are lost in a sea of over- indulgence and lack of inspiration (hello ()asis. hello llole). A good album is always hard to come by at any time but for his second. Mike Skinner made it look so easy. But let‘s just rewind fora moment.
‘You’re listening to the sound of the Streets. Lock down your aerial.’ ‘Has it Come to This?’. 2002
This was the battle cry that rung out throughout the summer of 2002. The debut Streets album
()riginu/ l’imle .lluleriu/ was a mash up of
pirate radio shout outs and tales of gee/ers needing excitement. all set to a throbbing. loving bass line and cheesy. tinkling keys. A sound borne out of the moment but also Mike Skinner‘s love for rap.
'llip hop draws on different principles to other music] he says. 'It‘s not purely sonic pleasure: its conflict and action and story. It‘s our old way of making records which is rhythm and noise The .rl-Yi'um. and I love that.~
()riginu/ l’imle .lluli'riu/ was a considerable success both here and abroad. [I drew on primal things to primal effect. almost always pushing the right emotive buttons something good music has always strived to do. Skinner won a Brit Award for it. got Mercury nominated (but lost out to Ms Dynamite) and. more impoitantly. gave himself a place beside Massive Attack. Aphex Twin and the ('hemical Brothers as people who changed the face of British dance music. His contribution was to give the faceless. wordless raver. the sweating party kid in the corner and the music fan a voice. face and personality like no one in dance music had done before. Also. it‘s unlikely that l)i//ee Rascal would have snatched the Mercury Music [him from under Radiohead's nose in 2003 had it not
been for Skinner‘s softening of the path ahead of
him 18 months earlier. But for such pt‘odigious work Skinner is now surprisingly unassuming about it now.
"l‘he last album was so obvious] he says. ‘All I had to do was mention things and people got excited. ()n this. I couldn‘t really go "we‘re British. we smoke fags and we drink boo/e" again. I had to take it somewhere else.‘
So where does he take it'.’ Full brass sections'.’ liree jazz explorations‘.’ .\'ot quite. but close. A concept album. A Grand Don 'I ('wm'ﬁn' live is a concept album. .lust like back in the day when Yes and limerson. Lake and Palmer made it their duty to pump their music full of high concept. Skinner has built an album with coherent narrative. A story not about gee/.ers and chancers like times before. but just about a day it) the life of a bloke. As he likes to call it himself. ‘an accidental concept album'. And it really is quite brilliant.
combined with a little bit of
‘I reckon you’re about an eight or a nine, maybe even a nine and a half in four beers time’
‘Fit but You Know It’ 2004
A (frond Don't (‘o/m' I-‘or Free (like the man himself) is a startling piece of work. It takes a lot to get into. especially when you consider just how accessible the garage pop hooks on much of his debut were. but persistence reaps rewards. The Streets redefined the notion of what dance music meant: now he seems to have dropped it more or less. leaving it for dead. He hasn’t totally abandoned his roots but for the most part. :I (imm/ Don't (‘()III(’ For I"/'('(' sounds like dance music you cant dance to. And. to be honest. that‘s no bad thing. More than that. his lyrics stop being jttst rants at raves but are vivid. descriptive and truly. truly human. A lone complaint might be that age old one about concept records: in striving to push the narrative forward the masic suffers and some tunes play second fiddle to Skinner's lyrical workouts. As a result. the album brings to mind a piece of poetry or fiction instead ofjust songs. As a story in its own right it has more holes than a pettsiottet"s vest but when pasted into the music it makes perfect sense. Maybe if Mike Leigh was 35. brought up in Birmingham and vaguely remembered the Stone Roses. then he would have made music like this. Observing the fortunes of humans at their most vulnerable. passionate and compelling. That's not to say he‘s better than everyone else: Skinners tales are no different to any other tales of pop hedonism. the only difference is he admits which are true and which are fake.
‘\\'hen you listen to 50 ('ent you‘re hearing a guy who you imagine goes around getting shot. and he doesn’t really - well. he did -— but now he’s doing pretty much the same as I am: being interviewed. collecting awards. going to parties.' he says. 'And the big question is how to hang on to that excitement you had before becoming successful. without pretending you’re still doing things you’re actually not.”
You create a story of course. llis twisted Bruinmie/Brixton brogue is considerably less squeaky and clean than on his debut. lle’s deliberately gruffed up as he details an up and down day in the life of Mike. .\'ot the real Mike. you understand. just a character. He stops short at bearing his own soul. of course: he’s smarter than that. Skinner insists the album is not based on a real experience >- it is a pure work of fiction. .\'ow Mike just isn't having a good day. After getting in a tangle with a cash machine and a missing wad of cash. he encounters (and heads out on a date with) a girl who lights him up inside like never before. But that‘s not before he tumbles through deceit. paranoia. arguments. drug induced stupor. 'l‘ennent‘s Super induced torpor. violence. kebabs. lust. love. lbi/a. bookies. flipping beer mats. rolling endless spliffs and craving true companionship. Be it the palm sweating tension of out-of-your—depth gambling. the impatience. delirium and euphoria of coming tip on ecstasy alone in a club. or the fidgety nervousness of a first date in a pub. Skinner expresses the everyday with a bluntness and warmth that makes the neck hairs bristle. He‘s so very alive. and don't we just know it.
The Streets play the Barrowland, Glasgow, Sat 15 May. A Grand Don’t Come For Free is out now on 679 Records.
-'- THE LIST 19