Mike Skinner. The Streets' frontman, is now in a very different world from his fans and the wry kebab-shop realism that made his name. His third album, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, reports from the dark side of celebrity, and Skinner's chemical-fuelled nervous breakdown there. As this is just the place that reality TV suggests most Britons want to visit, that doesn't necessarily make him out of touch. His transformation in cultural status from Eminem's provincial cousin to the Arctic Monkeys' semantic godfather also means he is a far from spent force. But his songs about success remain his least imaginative yet.
The urgent chants of "Skinner!" half an hour before he appears tells you his crowd is still loyal. And when he finally arrives, in Miami Vice casual wear that parodies the luxury gap he's now on the far side of, he's welcomed like a friend. "Prangin' Out" outlines his recent debauchery. A cheeky stab at the Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" during "Don't Mug Yourself" lays knowing claim to a musical movement. The Specials' ska brass overture of "Let's Push Things Forward", and R&B romantic earnestness of "All Goes out the Window" define The Streets' own musical melting pot. With a live band and Skinner's soul-powered vocal foil Leo the Lion, The Streets' early days in the underground garage ghetto seem a lifetime away.
The ordinary alcoholic regret of "Too Much Brandy" is then paired with the new "When You Wasn't Famous" and its inter-celebrity drunken tryst. "Which member of S Club 7?" Skinner teasingly asks the crowd of this interlude. "Never Went to Church", the "Bridge Over Troubled Water", paying tribute to his recently dead father, then fetches up on emotionally firmer ground.
The wider social realities The Streets once addressed are off the agenda now, even when early songs such as the rave-tinged "Turn the Page" draw big, fond cheers. Leo's singing, skilled as it is, also lets Skinner delegate his front-man responsibilities. Perhaps as a result, it's the fine but soppy ballad "Dry Your Eyes" that gets the most universal, arm-waving cheer: the Streets as Family Favourites.
The rowdier sex-war report "Fit But You Know It" provides a more fitting climax. The neon Union Jacks that background a grungy "Land of Hope and Glory" remind you how little music like this Britain had previously. Looking better on the dancefloor, though, should be a priority.
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