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Skinned Alive

 

The Streets: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

Vice / 679, 2006

Rating: 3.7

 

Posted: April 25, 2006

By Laurence Station

The cover of Original Pirate Material, Mike Skinner’s debut as The Streets, displayed a tenement building. The even stronger follow-up, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, revealed Skinner waiting at a bus stop. The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living shows Skinner leaning against a Rolls Royce, revealing just how far the British rapper has come in a few short years. He’s clearly moved above street level and can now be found a few stories up, in posh hotel rooms with well-stocked mini-bars and fetching girls agreeable to cocaine being snorted off of lithe, tan limbs.

True to form, Skinner relates precisely what his existence consists of presently. The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living lacks the overarching ambition of Pirate Material, and it doesn’t exhibit the storytelling smarts or infectious hooks of Grand. But it’s not without its merits. The production is diverse and polished. The suitably frenetic “Pranging Out” conveys cracking up from a fame casualty’s perspective (“Snort more tour support and then have a drink, the bruise on the side of my head is madly banging”). “Memento Mori” serves up snappy witticisms like “If love is blind then why do we all buy lingerie?” and captures the feeling of a wide-eyed kid loosed in an adult playground (“I don't really care about the luck and the look / But driving a Ferrari is fucking book”). “Never Went to Church” is a surprisingly poignant reflection on losing a parent.

Easy Living simply lacks the scope and gritty, lived-in detail that made Skinner’s first two efforts so appealing. Part of the problem is its brevity -- it clocks in ten minutes shorter than the debut. The insights lack bite, as well. “War of the Sexes” isn’t saying anything particularly profound with observations like “You're not playing at hard to get / You're playing at not getting a hard-on yet.” “Two Nations” attempts to make some penetrating corollary between stardom in America and the UK (in a nutshell, the UK tolerates its artists while America kills theirs), but loses its footing with defensive comments like “Understated is how we prefer to be / That's why I've sold three millions and you've never heard of me.”

Easy Living is not a whiny, poor-little-rich-boy tale, however. Skinner’s too self-aware to fall into that self-pitying pit. Thus, it’s foolish to knock the man for writing about the price and pressures of stardom. Skinner writes what he knows, and this is what he’s currently experiencing. Also, this is not some choir boy corrupted by wealth and fame serving up a mawkish morality tale, just a hard-nosed kid from humble means made good hanging on to the dragon’s tail of celebrity for all it's worth. References to drugs and gambling appeared on the first two Streets releases; the main difference is that now Skinner can afford more expensive drugs and place larger bets. Regardless of intent, Skinner’s got plenty of material for his next album: The Backlash Is a Bitch.

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