It was back in 2005 that Mike Skinner branded a career in the music industry as the hardest way to make an easy living, detailing the relentless schedule of a working musician and constant pressure to make radio friendly unit shifters. Now, almost a decade since The Streets released their last album – 2011’s ‘Computers and Blues’ – you can’t help but think that the pressure’s off somewhat. Now a settled family man, who still parties hard, but parties hardly (a lifestyle switch he admits to on the sassy ‘You Can’t Afford Me’) Skinner’s now doing things on his own terms, rather than bowing to the beck and call of record labels, lawyers and PR companies.
As a result, things seem a little less exhausting. Instead of spunking huge budgets on lavish videos, he’s now filming his own on an iPhone, which he also used to mix this on rather than in a flash studio. Rather than getting his people to talk to your people and arranging sterile, soulless meetings in glass-fronted offices, Skinner’s simply DM-ing his faves on Instagram and asking them if they want to collaborate.
This kind of DIY approach is what you’d expect from a new artist starting out, rather than one of the millennium’s greatest musical talents, but as ‘None of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’ shows, it’s served him extremely well. Branded a mixtape rather than an album – leaving all the more room for experimentation and controlled chaos – this is the sound of The Streets having a whole lot of fun and worrying very little about the consequences.
A duets record by any other name, Skinner’s effortlessly taken the temperature of the best left of centre sounds of 2020, bringing in everyone from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to heart-on-sleeve punks IDLES, British rap hero Ms Banks and G-folk originator Hak Baker. Genre seems to have had as little of a factor in Skinner’s decision-making as it did when he pieced together the groundbreaking ‘Original Pirate Material’ 18 years ago, when he welded hip-hop, electronica and UK garage to Gladiator-styled samples and pilled up confessionals all laced with a heavy dose of sharp humour.
Parker opens up the tape’s flawlessly fun 12 tracks, lending his dreamy psych vocals to the chorus of ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’. Crooning over plaintive piano, he and Skinner pick apart the deeply millennial dilemma that is the tyranny of being tied to your phone; always available but deeply resenting anyone who actually tries to contact you on the damn thing.
“Our relationships with people now are filtered through WhatsApp and Tinder and Instagram, and if you’re going to be as specific about stuff as I try to be then the phone’s gonna come up a lot,” said Skinner to NME earlier this year, discussing how often phones appear in his new lyrics. The hazy dark-wave of ‘My Phone Is Always In My Hand’ sees Skinner and grime emcee Dapz On The Map further pick apart this issue (“You’re ignoring me but you’re watching my Stories”), while a life lived through a small screen looms large on the full throttle thumper ‘Take Me As I Am’ featuring Brummie bass man Chris Lorenzo, as Skinner highlights one of the many lowlights of digital culture: “Men are weird at the close of the PM/Just ask a pretty girl to show you her DMs”. Women’s particularly rough ride online comes up again on the moody ‘The Poison I Take Hoping You Will Suffer’, with Skinner stating: “Every girl has a dude in her inbox talking to himself.” What is that about, lads?
Rather than a jolt of a vibe change, the clattering arrival of IDLES is no big deal, with Joe Talbot’s husky croak racing alongside some of Skinner’s sharpest lyrics, including the deeply enjoyable shout-along: “When I was a young boy I painted my room black/When I was a young boy I rated the boom bap.”
With able assistance from storied UK funky king Donae’O and woozy neo-soul singer Greentea Peng, ‘I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him’ is an addictive little shot of self-esteem, while Ms Banks pulls in a superstar turn on ‘You Can’t Afford Me’, casually throwing out iconic and deeply British bars like “I’m from M&S babe, you’ve got a better chance at Lidl’s.”
‘None of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’ isn’t just a testament to Mike Skinner’s intriguing evolution but also proof of his keen eye for curation. It’s good to have him back – and all of his mates, too.
Release date: July 10
Release label: Island