It was a watershed moment in music in 2002 when Mike Skinner made his unexpected arrival under the moniker of The Streets with the zeitgeisty Original Pirate Material. The record is regarded as one of the best albums from the 21st Century, one which saw Skinner’s unique approach to music as the main appeal. The way in which he discussed the woes of everyday life in wonderfully mundane and intricate detail instantly made him a relatable figure to the masses.
His sophomore album, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, saw Skinner lay out his songwriting credentials even further when he was lauded for his rap opera. The concept album follows the story of its protagonist’s relationship with a girl, named Simone, alongside the mysterious loss of £1,000 from his home and the problems that are ensued from the missing cash.
Skinner returned to discuss his own life on The Hardest Way To Make A Living, a project which sees him balance the trials and tribulations that come from being a star with a burgeoning penchant for drugs and women. Burning through his cash like no tomorrow through his record label and sports betting, Skinner was offering a totally unique look at life in the spotlight. Just like his debut album, the music was autobiographical and to hear one of the biggest artists in Britain being so frank about their life was a breath of fresh air. Skinner later followed this up with Everything Is Borrowed, a more emotive project which sees Skinner searching from within after becoming a father and, tragically, losing his own.
In 2011, Skinner waved goodbye to The Streets with their fifth and final album Computers and Blues. His life had changed, he now was no longer this ‘Jack The Lad’ in his early 20s and he put The Streets moniker to bed. The next few years would see him link up with The Music’s Rob Harvey to form The D.O.T. before retiring the new band after two albums and focusing on life as a DJ.
His career then went full circle when in 2017 he announced that The Streets would be returning for a special tour which, at the time, was meant to be a one-off to fund a film he is working on. However, Skinner got hooked back into the world of The Streets and is back using the moniker for good. In 2020, The Streets shared their first-full length project in nine years with the mixtape None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive, which was a stellar return to form which featured Tame Impala, IDLES and many more exciting names.
To celebrate the wonderful work of Mike Skinner, this feature by chronologically revisiting five of The Streets’ best songs from over the course of the last 18 years.
Let’s take a look!
The Streets 5 Best Songs
‘Weak Become Heroes’
This is Skinner’s ode to rave culture, a movement which gave him a sense of belonging and community that made him feel like he was part of something bigger than himself. Anybody who has ever stepped foot in a rave will instantly connect on a profound level with the words that Skinner states in ‘Weak Become Heroes’, understanding that he isn’t glorifying drugs but, instead, celebrating how it brings people from all colours and creeds together.
Skinner used references to the forefathers of rave culture throughout the track, who he holds in a position like religious people would with God. “The reference I made to Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling and all that were because I was intelligent enough to find out that those were the guys that started it,” Skinner said about the track.
“So it was 1995, it wasn’t ’89, even though everyone thinks it was about ’89. Which goes to prove that that experience is the same experience that was had for everyone, even though people in 1989 will say it was better in 1989 than it was in 1995. Because I never experienced 1989 but ’95 was pretty good,” he recalled.
‘Empty Cans’ is the crescendo on A Grand Don’t Come For Free and sees Skinner leave the listener on tenterhooks as he provides two different endings to the story in the final track. One is a bitter ending and the latter is a happy ending. The sad scenario sees the protagonist wake up with a can of Super Tenants for breakfast then get into a fight with the TV over the repairman’s fee.
Whereas, on the latter, the protagonist realises that perhaps he is the reason why he has lost his girlfriend, all of his friends and the only way to get out of this situation is to be the bigger man and reconcile with his mates. Suddenly, after this moment of the enlightenment, he finds the £1,000 had fallen down the back of the TV, which was the reason that the repairman was needed in the first place. The art of storytelling is Skinner’s forte and ‘Empty Cans’ is perhaps the greatest example of his inane ability to do this.
‘Never Went To Church’
This is Skinner’s most emotional hour as he deals with the inner workings of his grief following the loss of his father. He opens the song in his Brummie twang with the beautiful line, “Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity, I know which one I prefer.”
It sees Skinner reminisce upon these precious memories he held of his late father and is a raw emotional take on the difficulties that come when you lose somebody close to you, with The Streets man pondering whether he should turn to religion in a bid to come to terms with his grief-stricken state. He then poetically concludes, “I got a good one for you, Dad, I’m gonna see a priest, a Rabbi and a Protestant clergyman, You always said I should hedge my bets.”
‘Everything Is Borrowed’
The whole theme from The Streets fourth album Everything Is Borrowed is encapsulated within the titular track. The record is a looser concept record than A Grand Don’t Come For Free but isn’t as starkly autobiographical as it’s predecessor The Hardest Way To Make A Living. It’s a zen record about not taking life for granted and was born out of the energy that came to Skinner when he became a father.
The track is written from the perspective of a man in a similar position of Skinner and has recently just become a father but after the financial crisis found his life in tatters leaving his mental health in tatters, looking down the barrel of the gun but the one thing keeping him going is his family.
‘None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive’ (ft IDLES)
When Mike Skinner announced he was bringing The Streets back he was honest about saying it was motivated by finances and he had a film that he planned to make with the money. This statement set expectations for new music to be at a relatively low bar but in 2020, Mike Skinner made up for lost time with an extraordinary mixtape with the highlight coming on his collaboration with IDLES on ‘None Of Us Are Getting Life Alive’.
Skinner’s ability to mix it up with the new school of talent on the mixtape is a testament to his constant drive to keep on moving — which is the reason why he retired The Streets in the first place. This track proves that The Streets are no nostalgia act and Skinner still is a one-off despite all the replicas that have tried to copy him since the days of Original Pirate Material. This break reinvigorated him and the future for The Streets is still burning bright.