It's a cliché of rock'n'roll that success contains the seeds of its own destruction, estranging an artist from the source of his or her creativity and insulating them within a tomb of luxury. Or, to use the appropriate parlance, taking them from the streets to the mews. And, as Mike Skinner has found out, being The Streets is no safeguard against losing touch with them.
Such is the rationale behind The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, the follow-up toA Grand Don't Come for Free. The rapper's now dealing with the fallout from success and wealth. The first inklings came with the single "When You Wasn't Famous", on which he complained of having to watch for camera-phones when he snorted coke in public and marvelling at the resilience of the crack-smoking pop star he'd just shagged: "Considering the amount of prang you'd done the night before, you looked okay on CD:UK."
It's a far cry from the low-life scuffling of his previous two albums, as are the tour jinks of "Hotel Expressionism", the Las Vegas gambling binge and Ferrari drive of "Memento Mori" and the financial fretting of the title track, where Skinner shows how £250,000 can evaporate in promotion costs and living expenses. "The safest way to double your money," he advises, "is to fold it in your pocket." This may be true, but it has as little pertinence to his core audience's lives as to the bling-laden American rappers to whom Skinner at first offered such a sharp contrast.
The comedown is contemplated in the tracks that bookend the album. The concluding "Fake Streets Hats" finds him at the nadir of rock-star egotism, ranting at a Dutch audience for wearing what he thought was bogus merchandise, which he later found had been authorised by his Dutch record company. Using an actual recording of the onstage antics, it's a courageously warts-and-all portrayal of rock'n'roll asshole behaviour, with Skinner acknowledging his failings as he celebrates them. It brings the album back to the opener, "Pranging Out", an unflinching portrait of the downside of the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle. The result - in "All Goes Out the Window" - is a fatal carelessness towards the things and people that really matter.
Musically, there's little to choose between this album and its predecessor. Mingling abrupt, grimey beats, techno twitches, lazier swing-funk and a few novelty touches, Skinner manages just about to compensate for his delivery, which follows much the same course throughout. Is there another "Dry Your Eyes" here? Opinions will vary.
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