Earlier this year I was pretty broken up when Jack White announced that The White Stripes would not be releasing another album-ever. It’s just one of those things that happens in the music world. Time passes, people get involved in other projects. Then, when they finally get back to it, they realize that what was there before isn’t anymore. Time to move on.
The same can be said for Mike Skinner making music as The Streets. Computers and Blues is the final chapter in The Streets book as far as he’s concerned. And honestly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Streets hasn’t put out a really great record since 2004, and in today’s world, that may as well be 1974. Not that this latest release is completely devoid of good music, but it’s certainly not anywhere near the level Skinner reached with A Grand Don’t Come For Free (probably the greatest hip-hop album to come out of the UK, even though some dossers will try to convince you that Dizzee Rascal is the only thing worth listening to).
Computers And Blues comes at a pretty interesting time for Skinner. Much of the album has to do with getting older. At 32 he’s hardly an old man, but I think he understands that he’s becoming separated from the main audience for his style of music. He’s also had a hard time balancing his home life with his work, if the lyrics from “Trying To Kill Me” can be taken literally:
How many ways will it warm up, 8 months ago fate came
To break me in somewhat and rape me on the flames
The queerest feeling of my dearest appearing
To be leering from the ether, I fear more fever
Like the bridge disappearing through fog in my ears
There’s no tonic it seems for this chronic fatigue
I’m happily trading insanity lately
For passion, that makes me a man at least, maybe
That’s all expected, though. For some people drugs is a necessity to create. For others it comes naturally. The real problem Skinner faces is that the genre has passed him by. The garage hip-hop he helped create in the late 90’s and early 00’s has become more popular as technology has become more accessible. Now any aspiring rapper can loop beats and drums with his Mac and try to become the next Jay-Z. While The Streets have become more proficient technically, the passion is gone.
Computers and Blues feels like a collection of Skinner’s demos that he was too lazy to finish. There isn’t anything fresh or captivating. Nothing stands out, either. There isn’t a single track on the record that I can point to and say, oh, this is definitely the best song. I mean, it’s The Streets so I dig it, but it’s disappointing for a couple reasons.
First, The Streets had the world served up on a plate in 2002. Original Pirate Material was being hailed as the most innovative, amazing record to come from the rap genre since The Chronic, and Skinner was being called a genius by Entertainment Weekly, Uncut, and The AV Club. *He could have been the biggest artist in the world. For the most part he did well not letting this quick success go to his head. It never effected the way he made music, but he could have used the musical capital a bit more to his advantage. Instead he crawled back into his own head and created one of the best rap albums of all-time.
Second, while OPM was a decent record (more than a little overhyped in my opinion) his next record was flat-out amazing. A concept rap record is not something you hear every day, or millenia. A Grand Don’t Come For Free takes us through 24 hours in Skinner’s life and is completely engrossing in a way I didn’t think hip-hop could be. It has great quiet moments of truth, like the song “I Could Well Be In,” and some cool bangers like “Blinded By The Lights.” Nothing The Streets has put out since has been anywhere near as good, but it proved that he was capable of greatness.
That’s why I’m not going to be too sad when The Streets play their final show sometime next year. For me, Skinner’s just been going through the motions trying to wear himself out so he can finally take a break. Five albums in nine years and constant touring have taken their toll. I’m hoping that after the hiatus, Skinner comes back strong with something entirely different. One things for sure, he’s not retiring yet.