So, as is the way, six years after their ‘final’ show, The Streets are back.
Mike Skinner’s original musical vehicle have just completed a comeback UK tour and, judging by the reaction on social media, it’s gone down an absolute storm. So much so that they’ve now announced more dates for 2019:
So, naturally, it got us thinking about the almost impeccable Streets back catalogue, engineered chiefly by Mike Skinner. They were that rarest of acts: came in on their own terms; produced five albums that were all, in their own way, superb; and then went out once they’d said everything they wanted to say and before everyone got bored. Of course, within those five albums, the opening two - Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come for Free - can be legitimately considered two of the best albums ever made.
So let’s take a trip down memory lane by counting down all of the singles, in reverse order of brilliance. Lock down your aerial and make yourself at home…
Look, none of these tracks are bad, but there has to be one bring up the rear and, OMG, it’s this one. There’s nothing wrong with it at all but it sees Mike just seeming quite, well, content really, as he has a little look at social media while assessing a relationship. It was a perfectly fine track at the end of his final album Computers and Blues - an album which rounded off The Streets’ canon perfectly, but also demonstrates why it was the right time to stop - it’s decent, but it’s hardly the searing social commentary seen on some of the other tracks on this list.
15. ‘Going Through Hell’
Likewise, I feel bad putting this - the only other single from Computers and Blues, which I absolutely assure you is a really good album - second last. Its chopped-up rock feel, complete with chorus sung by The Music’s Rob Harvey, who he would later collaborate with on The Dot, showed that Mike was still up for playing with new sonic landscapes. And the chorus lyric is a defiant call-to-arms. It’s just that, overall, it’s good, but probably not in the class of his essential tracks.
14. ‘Prangin’ Out’
Third album The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living saw Skinner take the cliched banana skin of a third record - where the temptation is to make an album about life on the road and your new pop star existence with no relevance to your audience - and jump on it enthusiastically with both feet. The result was a record that was one of the best examples of this type of record ever made - but because of the aforementioned relevance problem which means that these albums are fundamentally difficult for the listener to connect with, probably the fifth best Streets album. Nonetheless, there were some truly great moments, and ‘Prangin’ Out’ was a brutally honest depiction of having way too much of a good thing.
13. ‘Heaven for the Weather’
Like on ‘Going Through Hell’, Skinner never had any fear of embracing different musical styles and this track comes across like something out of a twisted West End musical which somehow works, as Mike mulls over whether to spend eternity upstairs or downstairs. It showed that he was fully over his Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living breakdown, setting the tone for the rest of the brilliantly reflective and more positive Everything is Borrowed record.
12. ‘The Escapist’
The last track on Everything is Borrowed, this was a gorgeous, woozy way to end the album, with Mike giving himself up to the metaphorical winds - “I’ll not feel no fear, cos’ I’m not really here, I’m nowhere near here”. Who hasn’t wished to just walk away from everything once in a while?
11. ‘Could Well Be In’
The final single from the amazing A Grand Don’t Come for Free which, in anyone else’s hands, could have been cloying and trite, Skinner somehow manages to perfectly observe the little minutiae of those glorious times when you can’t help but start falling for someone. And it showed that ITV can be educational sometimes.
10. ‘When You Wasn’t Famous’
Yes, it’s basically ‘Fit But You Know It But Now You’re Famous So It’s A Bit Different’ but Skinner is such an entertaining storyteller that he drags you in. There’s some stellar lines in here - the sudden dawning realisation that you believed all the tabloid lies before you became the subject of them and of course, the unforgettable “Considering the amount of prang you’d done, you looked amazing on CD:UK”. Who exactly was he talking about? One thing we know is that it wasn’t Rachel Stevens, which is frankly a shame.
9. ‘Never Went to Church’
Likewise, this was Skinner’s attempt at another ‘Dry Your Eyes’ - an unrepeatable trick - and yet, he pulled it off. It could have been cheesy - it is cheesy (something he himself admits) - and yet, as a tribute to his recently-passed father, it’s incredibly moving. The line “I forgot you left me behind to remind me of you” is brilliant, as is the way he manages to end a sad, thoughtful song with a gag - and it completely fits.
8. ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’
I mean, pretty much every track on Original Pirate Material is amazing so even the ‘weakest’ single is brilliant. An essential tale of your mates looking out for you when you’re about to make an idiot of yourself in the love department. “Stop me if I’m wrong, stop me if I’m wrong”. You’re not wrong Calvin. As ever, you are right.
7. ‘Everything is Borrowed’
I love this song. Like so many Streets tracks, the cheap casio keyboards and royalty-free samples, added to Skinner’s honest vocals, somehow create something lo-fi, yet epic. This glorious philosophical track leaves you feeling thankful for life: “I came to this world with nothing, and I leave with nothing but love. Everything else is just borrowed.” Too true Mike, too true.
6. ‘Blinded by the Lights’
Making one track that perfectly captures the incredibly hard-to-pin down feeling - the sounds, the sights, the smells, the whole emotional experience - of a true club experience (not your ‘up in the VIP’ nonsense, but a real club) is hard enough, but making two is nothing short of genius. The other one? You’ll find out soon enough.
5. ‘Has it Come to This?’
The first Streets track I ever heard and one that made me - incorrectly - think that they were part of the garage scene, rather than the unique act they were. With the distance of time, this track sits perfectly in both camps - it’s a great two-step track on its own terms, but also perfectly fits into The Streets’ world. Fundamentally, it’s an absolute tune isn’t it?
4. ‘Dry Your Eyes’
I guarantee you a cooler writer would have relegated this track to the number 11 position. “Oh, it’s so cheesy, it’s so overplayed, it’s an anthem for repressed beer boys and should be left in the past”. You know what? Bollocks to that. Yes, you’ve heard it a load of times, yes it got to number one - it did so because it’s a stunning, heartbreaking track, with a beautifully understated chorus and pure honesty running through it like a stick of rock. Two great moments, of many: “I’m not gonna fuckin’, just fuckin’ leave it all now” - that point when you just run out of words, of arguments, to try and convince someone to change their mind but you can’t stop trying. And “I’ve got nothin’, absolutely nothin’”. Just simple, and brutal.
3. ‘Fit but you Know It’
Nothing, nothing will ever come close to this for perfectly describing the bedlam of a lads’ holiday away. It’s just a total blast of fun from start to finish and will always hold a special place in my heart due to my German mate being utterly fascinated by Skinner’s delivery of the phrase ‘chips and drinks’. In fact, if you want to educate a German about the true nature of English culture, just play them this song. It should probably be the national anthem.
2. ‘Weak Become Heroes’
“A sea of people all equal smiles in front and behind me… cos me and you are same I known you all my life I don’t know your name… they could settle wars with this… all of life’s problems I just shake off… we all smile we all sing… the weak become heroes then the stars align… we all sing we all sing all sing.”
RIGHT. We’re going out TONIGHT and we’re gonna have the BEST NIGHT EVER. Who’s with me?
1. ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’
What an absolute, eternal banger. “This AIN’T yer archetypal street sound”: you’re not wrong, Mike. The song which summed up what The Streets was all about: pushing things forward; trying new sounds; new deliveries; new ways of talking about things; being honest (“around ‘ere we say birds, not bitches”) and being true to yourself.
“So let’s put on our classics and we’ll ave a little dance, shall we?”
Yes, let’s do that Mike. Let’s do just that.