wed 02/12/2020

The Streets, EartH review - empathy in isolation | reviews, news & interviews

The Streets, EartH review - empathy in isolation

The Streets, EartH review - empathy in isolation

Garage laureate proves eager to connect

Mike Skinner got out just in time, pulling the plug on The Streets at the point of exhaustion. After Original Pirate Material’s hopeful bedroom dream of English rap came true in 2002, four further albums wearily analysed fame and self-destruction, and ended in 2011 when Skinner saw only dead ends ahead.

Mike Skinner got out just in time, pulling the plug on The Streets at the point of exhaustion. After Original Pirate Material’s hopeful bedroom dream of English rap came true in 2002, four further albums wearily analysed fame and self-destruction, and ended in 2011 when Skinner saw only dead ends ahead. The garage laureate of clubland and kebabs had set his own template too well, and was too gloomily self-aware to fake progress.

Subsequent work has suited his discursive mind, from rock band The D.O.T. to DJing. The Streets’ 2017 return for a Greatest Hits tour still protectively distanced them from present relevance, and his characterisation of their first new album since 2011, None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive, as a mix-tape continues to dodge responsibility for his last decade’s music. Perhaps he’s underplayed his art to preserve his 41-year-old family man’s life. This livestream concert from an empty Hackney venue anyway significantly raises his profile. For an introspective man made for lockdown, the Skinner who roams EartH tonight seems eager to connect.

He peers closely at the camera, as if trying to reach through his absent audiences’ screens. Faithful co-MC Kevin Mark Trail circles around him, and croons breakthrough ballad “Dry Your Eyes” over elegiac organ which is part gospel and part Elgar, as the camera focuses on the keyboardist’s spidery fingers, and the band fit into the venue’s crepuscular crannies. And soon, Skinner builds up some steam.

“Turn the Page” and “Let’s Push Things Forward” announce The Streets’ early, musically evolutionary intent, but it’s 2008’s “The Way of the Dodo” which confronts more intimate existential crises. “I came into this world with nothing, and I leave with nothing but love,” he says, at peace with his insignificance. “You are kind of downloading, Elon Musk-style, the inside of my head,” he explains in an aside. “It’s a dark place, let me tell you.” The same year’s “The Escapist” dreams of sylvan glades not kebab-strewn streets, its lyrics levitating Skinner past mental shackles, as a bare light bulb swings in the dark.

Skinner is a would-be filmmaker as well as lyrical self-dramatist, and has studded EartH with theatrical sets, literally “leanin’ back in my chair in a greasy spoon cafeteria” during the cheery bounce of “Don’t Mug Yourself”, and throwing darts at the bar. But it’s his jittery, restless presence that makes the night cohere. Among the new songs, “I Wish You Loved You As Much As You Love Him”, with dungareed guest rapper Donae’o, confirms the empathy of this self-protectively insulated, careful trailblazer. “Those who are hard to love, need it the most,” “None Of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive” also suggests, in a claustrophobic song built for lockdown. “I don’t like my country,” he adds, while recalling that “full fathom five my father lies,” a parent’s burial and right-wing drift blurring. A final avalanche of champagne-simulating bubbles can’t hide how laddish lairiness is used more for useful edge than easy pleasure now. Skinner the flinching star still has something to say to these times.

'The Escapist' dreams of sylvan glades not kebab-strewn streets, as a bare light bulb swings in the dark

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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