Over a decade on, Mike Skinner’s Everylad vignettes still sparkle.
We look back at the early-millennial genius of laptop laureate Mike Skinner.
THE STREETS ORIGINAL PIRATE MATERIAL ★★★★ A GRAND DON’T COME FOR FREE ★★★★ RHINO, OUT MARCH 30
Somewhere around the turn of the millennium, the laptop album was born. The proliferation of digital audio production software – often “cracked” and pirated for free on file-sharing sites – meant that musicians could create studio-quality tracks on a computer at home. The Streets’ Original Pirate Material was different from most bedroomrecorded records, though. Not least because it was an album partly made in a wardrobe. To achieve his dry, intimate vocal sound, in his room in Brixton, Birmingham-born Mike Skinner recorded his rhymes in an empty wardrobe sonically deadened with a duvet and mattress. Inside it, Skinner created his own antiNarnia, a very much non-fantasy world. Instead it was a cartoon reality reflection of his day-to-day life: a heady, Kronenbourg-fuelled existence involving weed-dealing, PlayStation marathons and chipflying arguments in kebab shops. What stood out about Original Pirate Material was the freshness of its artisan take on UK garage, as heralded by The Streets’ first single, 2001’ s Has It Come To This?, all jerky beats, glissando piano, cut-up vocals and Skinner’s rap about journeys on the Tube, walking through underpasses and kicking back at home weighing out eighths deals of weed. But this wasn’t just geezer-ish braggadocio and on The Streets’ debut album, it was Skinner’s humour, accurate depiction of the ecstasy-glow drug experience (Weak Become Heroes) and bravery in revealing his failings and vulnerabilities (see remorseful crap boyfriend groover It’s Too Late) that immediately attracted a huge audience. Since its release in 2002, the first-run vinyl copies of Original Pirate Material have been changing hands for north of £ 100, prompting its long-awaited re-release along with that of its successor, 2004 loose concept album A Grand Don’t Come For Free. In the latter’s wayward narrative, Skinner loses his £ 1000 of savings, before – spoiler alert – recovering it in the most ridiculous way by the album’s end. Held up against The Streets’ debut, it was more ambitious musically, but darker in tone. Blinded By The Lights took its title from a line in Weak Become Heroes, but this was its paranoid flipside, depicting Skinner alone in
a club, trying to find his mates and chasing the memories of those first highs: popping a second pill because the first isn’t working, causing his heart to dangerously race. The humour was still there in places, peaking with punky hit Fit But You Know It, but it was the heartbroken, tear-in-the-beer break-up ballad Dry Your Eyes, a rare instance of lovelorn desperation for bloke culture, which typified the tone and became The Streets’ biggest hit, an instant Number 1 on release. More than a decade down the line, both of these albums have hardly aged, probably because they were so ground-breaking at the time that the shadow of influence they cast still looms over new British urban styles. Perhaps inevitably, Skinner’s third album, 2006’ s The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living, documented his post-fame dilemmas, with diminishing returns. Since then, he’s continued to record and perform sporadically, cleaned up his act, suffered through M.E., and will return to the stage this spring for his first shows in seven years. Skinner quickly sold them all out and it’s not hard to imagine that it will be the songs from these first two albums that the crowds are waiting for: the sound of the time when The Streets burned fiercely and brightly. Listen To: Has It Come To This? | Weak Become Heroes | Fit But You Know It | Dry Your Eyes
On the road: The Streets’ Mike Skinner and his first two albums, 2002’ ’s Original Pirate Material (left) and 2004’ sA Grand Don’t Come For Free.