In a lengthy, all-encompassing interview with The Guardian (that he claims will be his last), Mike Skinner — a.k.a. the Streets, the greatest white British rapper of all time — talks about why he's cutting his musical career off after his upcoming fifth album, Computer and Blues. The short answer: He's contractually obligated for five, and the ol' muse isn't really pushing him any further than that. The long answer — well, it's complicated. And kind of sad.
Skinner's first two albums were critical smashes and, at least in the U.K., commercial smashes as well. His second one, A Grand Don't Come for Free, is a particularly notable achievement: A loose concept album threaded around the narrative of Skinner misplacing a $1,000 in cash, it bores in on mundane everyman details (“I'm trying to think what else I could say / Peelin' the label off, spinning the ashtray,” etc.) and nails their subjectively heightened emotional states. His latter two albums, though, which found him tackling the experiences of fame and dodos, respectively, were not as compelling, and were received as such. Skinner addresses the creative slide, and — not completely surprising for a guy into embarrassing self-reveals — doesn't try to defend himself. Respect this man's candor:
I think it would devalue it to say that it was cynical but I know what I'm doing with the Streets — I've been doing it for too long", he says at one point; or, later, "I don't want to do the Streets anymore. I should have moved on a long time ago."
And specifically on The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living:
"I don't look back at it with feelings of happiness," Skinner says, and at first I think he means this period of his life, or the reaction that the record engendered. But really he means that he considers the record a failure, because he was trying to paint a more nuanced portrait of his experiences. "When people heard The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living they thought I was having a terrible time," he says. "But it wasn't like that at all really. I was destroying myself but all I was really doing was describing that process of self-destruction that is inevitable for anyone in that situation, if it carries on. If everything goes right you end up being Michael Jackson. No one survives that."
"What I was trying to get across with that album is that your pendulum of emotions doesn't change. Before you're famous, you think that that pendulum of emotions is down to your circumstances. You think: I'm having a good day; I'm having a bad day — something shit's happened. You put in [to the equation] the incredible amount of money and opportunity with women and free clothes and screaming audiences but you still have good days and bad days. That was the really interesting record that I was intending on making. It's just important to realise," he adds, "that it took a lot to write such a boring album."
On the plus side, part one: The Guardian says, “The irony is that Computers and Blues might well lay claim to be at least the equal of his debut: it concerns itself with much the same protagonist, only he is older now and perhaps a little bit wiser, and it brilliantly — it seems to me at least — reconciles everything that's been so great about the Streets.”
On the plus side, part two: “But the perception of this period is, I persist, that you were out of your tiny mind the whole time, gambling, and taking loads of coke. Would that be fair? 'Yeah,' he replies, then only half- rhetorically: 'What would you do in that situation?'"
Mike Skinner: Why I'm killing off the Streets [Guardian UK]