Album: The Streets, Computers and Blues (679)
Friday 04 February 2011
It's been pretty evident, ever since the celebrity meltdown horrors of 2006's The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, that Mike Skinner has little time for modern pop stardom. So it's not that much of a surprise he should have decided to draw a line under his career as The Streets, and pursue different creative paths, with plans for a film and a novel.
In which case, it's a shame that he didn't make the move an album earlier, and go out on the intriguing philosophical ruminations of 2008's Everything Is Borrowed. Computers and Blues is a far less profound work, despite the occasional thought-provoking observation like "Between radio stations and tuned-in verse are echoes of the creation of this universe", "Growing into an adult is just learning to put into words what you knew as a baby", and "You can't Google the solution to peoples' feelings".
The latter is particularly pertinent with regard to Computers and Blues, a title which refers to the persistence of emotional turmoil despite the stratifying normalisations of social networking, where the available range of "status" possibilities is too narrow to cope with messy reality. The abstract funk of opener "Outside Inside" focuses immediately on this, with a sort of emotional weather-forecast – "informal outside, stormy inside, normal" – that mocks the way human complexity is condensed into tick-box summaries.
Elsewhere, "Soldiers" evokes the way that excessive videogame tension overlaps into real life, while "Blip on a Screen" offers the compensatory upside of our screen-mediated existence, expressing how a simple image of a foetus scanned inside the womb suddenly complicates matters enormously.
Skinner brings a neat contemporary slant to a corny old theme on "OMG", where his immediate despair at seeing how the Facebook relationship status of a girl he fancied has changed – "We'd been hanging out a lot/ I gathered that would have to stop" – is suddenly overturned by the realisation that he's the lucky one she's changed for. It's the album's "Dry Your Eyes" moment, though as with several of these songs, the melody could be more memorable, and the arrangement more involving. In contrast to the exotic range of rock, rap and orchestral elements featured on Everything Is Borrowed, here the most startling strategies are the blend of strummed 12-string, fluttering synth and flanged barbs of electric guitar that carries "We Can Never Be Friends", and the way that the chronic fatigue syndrome tale "Trying to Kill M.E." switches direction so abruptly part-way through that it sounds like a different track entirely.
But it's ultimately hard not to like an album that features not one but two epiphanies, one experienced lying on the "Roof of Your Car" staring at the stars, while in album closer "Lock the Locks" a dream prompts Skinner's sudden change of career – an event engagingly depicted as an office farewell party. Hip-hop, it hardly needs saying, is immeasurably poorer for his departure.
DOWNLOAD THIS Roof of Your Car; Blip on a Screen; We Can Never Be Friends; OMG; Lock the Locks
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