Everything Is Borrowed
One of the only things more nauseating than being gabbled at by a drug abuser about the deep, neverending possibilites of life is being lectured by a reformed drug abuser about the deep, neverending mysteries of life. The thing about drugs (or drinking, or being a promiscuous sleazebag, or whatever)is that it’s all so specific to the person – dependent on age, state of mind, tolerance… of course in general they’re all bad, destructive, ultimately empty experiences. Everyone knows that.
But at the right time of life, excess can be fun, and doing fun stuff is life-enhancing. It’s so easy to reflect on one’s own bad days, decide that in the end nothing was gained and urge those younger than you to get into yoga rather than cocaine. Easy, but also boring, unfair, hypocritical and pointless.
Daunting, then, that the fourth (and supposedly penultimate) Streets album is billed as The One Where Mike Cleans Up And Gets Philosophical. ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ is – in Mike’s words – all about “peaceful, positive vibes”. The songs on it are about God, love, mortality, family, the human race… that kind of shit. “I came to this world with nothing/And I’ll leave with nothing but love” goes the title track and opener; “Providing for my wife/Is the vibe I’m on in life” continues ‘The Way Of The Dodo’, before declaring “It’s not Earth that’s in trouble/It’s the people that live on it”. There are songs about a son, even though Mike Skinner doesn’t have one. There’s a song – ‘On The Edge Of A Cliff’ – about Mike contemplating suicide, then getting some sage advice from a “gentleman” (note: not a geezer). But does anyone really want or need to learn The Meaning Of Life from a now clean and serene kebab shop-trawling, Stella-bumming, bird-bangin’, prangin’-out Prince of – his words – “geezer garage”? Particularly when it follows The Album Where Mike Gets Fucked Up And Proper Famous, described by its creator as “a guilt-ridden indulgence” and by most others as “nowhere near as good as the first two” (both wrong: ‘The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living’ is a great, underrated record)?
Well, actually, yes. What saves Mike Skinner is the same thing as always. And that is, simply, that he is an astonishing lyricist – not flamboyant, very fuss-free, but as emotionally naked as, say, Richey Manic and as funny as, say, Bill Hicks. He’s self-deprecating, sage, good-stupid and good-clever all at the same time. “I wanna go to heaven for the weather/And hell for the company!” goes ‘Heaven For The Weather’. Perfect. “I learnt a lot about myself drawing all morning… It was absolutely shit, I’m awful at drawing” he confesses on ‘I Love You More (Than You Like Me)’. Exactly. He provides no answers, but makes you feel a whole lot better. You empathise. Not once is it self-righteous.
Musically – and people rarely talk about The Streets’ music, so focused are they on the words – it’s more polished, more intricate, but without losing any of that bedroom-made charm. Skinner has consolidated everything he’s done before, chucked in where his head’s at now and come up with an album that, while lacking the visceral thrill of ‘Original Pirate Material’, is a minor masterpiece that will mean a lot to a more select bunch of people. It is, if you will, the Thinking Man’s Streets Album.
The next one’s supposed to be an electronic, Berlin-influenced “dark vision of the future”. Can’t fuckin’ wait… Hamish MacBain