Photo: WENN.com/Gary Stafford
This weekend marked the end of The Streets as we know them (amidst a year of bands get back together left right and centre) with a final gig at Skegness' Big Reunion festival. It marks the final note on a career that totally altered the course of modern music as we know it. Mike Skinner as a lyricist, represented in many ways the voice of the 00's with a sense of poetry that reflected the lifestyles of your average 'geezer' attempting to blunder his way through the ever-changing world around him. As their career transpired The Streets began to lose some of their critical and fan accolade whilst at the same time struggling with fame, fatherhood and relationships. They have ended their career perfectly, signing off just over a decade from the first release, leaving behind them a legacy of honesty perhaps unrivalled to this day.
But why where they so important? In many ways it is evident within the facets of the music itself as well as the lyrics expressly stating intent within the song 'Let's Push Things Forward'. The Streets were a breath of fresh air when the first album landed, it was gritty, supposedly recorded mostly in Skinner's bedroom, the tracks worked almost as a reaction to the 90s which were dominated by manufactured pop groups in the vein of Take That and The Spice Girls. Just going back and listening to the tracks on 'Original Pirate Material' it is clear that they are timeless pieces with a gritty edge embodied by the personal lyrics from Skinner. It was great to hear something so rough around the edges, he can't sing but there is an inherent beauty in his laid back tone that dictates the trials and tribulations of an everyman who worked astonishingly hard to get to where he landed.
The fact that you hear his mum calling him down for tea on 'Turn The Page' only exacerbates this, indicative of the fact that you didn't need expansive budgets to become the voice of a generation. Skinner came from the rave scene and never shied away from his roots in the garage and house crowds, often paying tribute to the Artful Dodger and Danny Rampling, who have heavily influenced the sound of the early material. It is a unique sound, almost impossible to define, blending lack a daisical vocals with elements of hip-hop, garage, rock and house whilst exhibiting an entirely novel characteristic - the urge to tell a story. It is this narrative focus that has paved the way for the likes of Lilly Allen, Ghost Poet and subsequently after he was signed to Skinner's label, Proffesor Green.
'A Grand Don't Come For Free' as in the case of most follow-up LP's is The Streets' seminal album, a concept piece that fully dictates the rise and fall of a tumultuous relationship alongside the loss of a grand. It is a beautiful piece that in its honesty is both dark and heartwarming at the same time. 'Dry Your Eyes Mate' is an example of the band's capability to top the charts with a sense of ease. It is an incredibly powerful song lamenting the aftermath of a trashed relationship that has left a man in pieces; it is leant a huge amount of power in its bittersweet honesty reflected in the cracking of his voice and lyrics within which Skinner is talking to himself as much of his audience.
'Blinded By The Lights' which precedes the 'Dry Your Eyes' track is perhaps the greatest on the album, replete with an iconic melody that perfectly suits the subject matter. The song dictates an all too real experience of infidelity on a night-out: his girlfriend cheats on him with a friend whilst he flounders around looking for her in a purgatory haze of drug and alcohol induced stupor. It is a beautifully sad track punctuated as every sensation is described in detail by Skinner, going so far as saying the pills he has taken taste like "hair spray". It is a track that sums up the loneliness of a doomed night out perfectly, with the lyrics perfectly dosumenting the effects of the drugs and the emotional turmoil thrust down into the bottom of his gut. As a single it is indicative of the true poetry behind The Streets' songwriting skills, evoking a range of emotions whilst appealing to both mainstream and cult audiences. That in itself makes the song a piece that embodies every facet that make The Streets the voice of a British generation globally unrivalled in its statistical drug and alcohol intake.
Not to rest on their laurels however they were also a band to continuously switch up their material with each album being a unique snapshot of exactly where they rested within their career. 'The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living' is perhaps the best example of this, choosing to move away from the grass-roots aspects of the first two albums to lament the difficulties of adjusting to a life of infamy. 'When You Wasn't Famous' is a great piece about just how much fame can affect a relationship; cleverly Mike Skinner flirted with the prospect that the song was about Rachel Stevens or Cheryl Cole, even going so far as to dedicate the song top Cheryl on Top Of The Pops. At the same time the album whilst differing in subject matter, retained it's honesty without a doubt, shown most beautifully within the track 'Never Went To Church', a tribute to Skinner's dead father.
Yet at the same time the group began to lose a grip on their critical and cult acclaim, regrettably declining both in chart positioning as well as prominence within the scene. It was five years on from their debut and the resulting fall from grace clearly stemmed from just how much they had changed the game in the first place. Now their influence was all over the shop what with the likes of Lily Allen and cohorts who had adopted the same style to great effect. It was a case of the game changers being left behind with things once again thrust forward on an influx of similar artists with a "mockney" style. Whilst they still retained the elements that made them great, they had become overshadowed by changing times.
The release of 'Computers And Blues' earlier this year was nothing short of a "be careful what you wish for scenario" as the album was a huge return to form and a perfect swan song for Skinner and company. It is the band coming full circle to the same praise and elements that made 'Original Pirate Material' so fresh. 'Going Through Hell' is an excellent example of the energy that went into their first record with its definitively lary air. The LP as a whole works as a compilation of sorts, at the same time encompassing elements from each prior release to indicate exactly why they became the sensation that they are.
Skinner ended The Streets at the perfect time, rounding of a career with which as Skinner explained, explored every conceivable angle. That is the perfect definition as every release from the band was different influential and part of a musical biopic that due to its roots on Britain's "streets" should never be forgotten.
It's not the end however, this week marks the debut of Skinner's D.O.T a new side project that the world is waiting with bated breath to hear...