Mike Skinner: love him or hate him. Personally, I think A Grand Don’t Come For Free was amongst the best albums of last year, but there’s no shortage of opposition to that view: take one furious critic on Amazon, for instance, who demands that “someone define music to this chav!!!!” (Note the four exclamation marks, for, y’know, emphasis.) Or The Guardian’s Caroline Sullivan: “Why are we meant to celebrate his supposed lifestyle,” she wails, “an aimless round of late-night kebabs, spliffs and untaxed Ford Cortinas?”
Which is where she starts to go wrong, because to bemoan Skinner for writing about what he writes about is approximately as intelligent as arguing that 1984’s rubbish because Eurasia sounds like a bit of a hellhole. We aren’t meant to celebrate his lifestyle, supposed or otherwise; nor are we meant to disdain. It’s just, well, his lifestyle.
Or maybe it isn’t any more, now he’s loaded. Who cares? The point about Skinner is, the songs are fantastic. Much is made, rightly, of his lyrical brilliance, and call me a pseud if you feel the need, but there are English essays to be written about Dry Your Eyes and its extraordinary invocations of… no, I’ll stop there. The point is, no-one in mainstream music today is writing as well as him, and for all his protestations that poets are wankers, well, sorry, Mike, but you are one. But even if he was talking complete nonsense, his easy command of his vocal style – a kind of Real Speech Plus – is so arresting in its rhythmic idiosyncrasies as to make every track constantly, compulsively, listenable, especially the choruses, from Could Well Be In’s sweet optimism to the rampaging jollity of the irrepressible Fit But You Know It. The man can write a tune.
The Streets is the first popular British act to tick all these boxes since, God, since God knows when. Plus, he’s funny as fuck. And should any doubts remain, consider that this may be the only man in pop music who could make a line like “I’m not gonna fucking just fucking leave it all now” instantly comprehensible, utterly heartbreaking, and as irresistible in its rhythm as a pneumatic drill. For all our amazon reader’s impotent rage, this “chav” doesn’t need anyone to define music to him: he’s doing it fine all on his own.