Nobody can accuse Mike Skinner of being less than a motormouth. Listening to the verbal twists and volubility of the new Streets album, I'm thinking that I like the way that he puts stuff together on a record, but if he were out with you at a pub, you'd probably find it hard not to tell him to shut up after a while. 

But the whole ADHD approach to British rap has served him well over the years. When the Streets first burst on the scene in the early 2000s, there was nothing quite like them (him). Smart, frequently funny, and then surprisingly poignant as time went on, Skinner gained expertise at immortalizing little moments in his music. This was in sharp contrast to most of his American counterparts, who almost always went for the big picture and ended up boasting about their own legerdemain. 

It seems that Britain as a nation just got tired of him and his observations by "Everything Is Borrowed", the album before this one. Skinner sounded tired on that album himself, as if he were going through the motions with as little heart as he could muster. Around that time, he promised that the next Streets album would be his last under that name, and he's still saying just that. 

So now that the album has arrived, it looks like Skinner has raised his own expectations in his music, and has delivered a corker of a swan song. 

The lyrics are just as hyperactive as ever, but he's returned to those little moments : witness "Roof Of Your Car". "On the roof of your car/At the stars/the things you think when you're drinking on a bonnet". 

He's kicked up the music as well, and has made some concessions to modern rap/R&B crossovers. For enhancement, he's picked the unlikely lead singer of the Music, Robert Harvey, who adds an odd sort of soul to the proceedings. This leads to odd (but affecting) juxtapositions like "Soldiers", which has a stop-start musical backing, like a march that's been force-fed sedatives. 

His musical palette has expanded to include all sorts of new stuff, including George Harrison-esque guitars ("We Can Never Be Friends"), Plan B ("Those That Don't Know") and down-home funk ("Trust Me"). 

There are quite a few "What the ---- am I hearing?!" moments, too. "ABC" runs through a Skinner-ized alphabet in less than two minutes. "Puzzled By People" sounds a bit like mutant gospel. 

But there are also some classic Streets moments, where it all falls together and coheres, and where the sound of the music could not be anyone else. The above mentioned "Puzzled By People" is one of those : although the subject matter is a bit bigger than Skinner usually tackles, the song holds together beautifully. 

Then there's "Blip On a Screen", a tune that rivals some of the best of Skinner's work. It's all about the pre-birth of his child, and has the great words : "A blip on a screen/You don't know me/I think about you and what you will grow to be". 

Skinner even pulls in hotly-tipped-singer on the last track "Lock the Locks", which features Clare Maguire and serves as a coda to the entire Streets milieu : "I'm packing up my desk/Put it into boxes" . . . 

The Streets began with a bang, and for a while it looked like they might fade with a whimper. But Skinner has carefully re-examined what he's been doing, and has produced another bang to go out on. 

I give "Computers and Blues" an 8 on the England Swings scale of 1-10. 
 


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