A The Streets Mixtape

Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. In our newest category, we’re bringing that challenge back. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.
Mike Skinner’s rap project is approaching twenty years old and is releasing new album None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive on Friday. So I am using this as an opportunity to dive back in the catalogue to either introduce you to The Streets or just get you reacquainted.

Turn the Page (3:15)
Track 1 from the first (and my favourite) album Original Pirate Material. What better place to start? I remember listening to this album for the first time at a friend’s house and being transfixed from the get go. The way the strings build over syncopated beats makes it feel anthemic and at the centre of the cacophony is Mike Skinner with his witty lyrical interplay. And then it gives way to just stillness. What a perfect way to introduce himself.

Blinded by the Lights (4:43)
Switching gears we’re off to second album A Grand Don’t Come for Free. We turn to a pretty typical focus of Mike Skinner’s lyrics; drugs, nights out, and relationships. One of my favourite aspects of The Streets is the story telling and this tragic tale of a night out gone wrong is visceral. By the end our hero is too ‘fucked’ to care when he sees his girlfriend cheating on him.

Prangin’ Out (3:49)
By the third album Mike Skinner loses the connection to his everyman persona and instead focuses his commentary on the culture of celebrity that he is now a part of. Though as an album it feels a little self-indulgent there are some gems – including ‘Prangin’ Out’. Spiralling out of control and clutching at straws Skinner is honest and open about his struggles with handling becoming a rock star. And pretty appropriately, there’s also a weird version with Pete Doherty out there.

Has It Come to This? (4:03)
I’m breaking the pattern and not jumping to the 4th album. Instead we’re back to OPM and some garage beats. There are few artists whose lyrics I enjoy as much as those from The Streets. I have spent too many hours listening to Skinner play with language. “Sex, Drugs and on the dole.”

Fit But You Know It (4:13)
This is a type of song we haven’t go to yet, but one which was huge for early Mike Skinner. A comedic tale of lads, lads, lads. In this case he takes aim at a woman that he seems to be messing him around. Reflecting on this song, it is maybe a little problematic, though I think he mostly ends up showing how ridiculous banter culture and the songs protagonist is. Ultimately the song is catchy as fuck and it really pushed The Streets onto mainstream success, and so is essential listening for The Streets story. See ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ for more of the same.

Let’s Push Things Forward (3:49)
Mike Skinner is not happy with the status quo here. It feels arrogant and anarchic. At this point I had not really heard someone turn on their own industry like this. Not just that though. It’s not angry. It’s positive and optimistic, pointing out to the listener that it is up to us to change things. This lights a fire in my belly every time. ‘This ain’t a track, it’s a movement.’

Weak Become Heroes (5:32)
Our final track from OPM and this might be my favourite. After listening to the call to arms of ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’, this track feels optimistic in a different way. A life in transition. I turn to this when travelling or when I’m feeling nostalgic for my hometown and school friends. The drifting piano just gently propels you forward. Plus it has one of the few fade outs I don’t mind as it fits with the dreaminess of the song.

Never Went To Church (3:33)
Now we get to the sad and brutally raw. Honestly, I find this song really heartbreaking. The authenticity of Skinner’s storytelling really makes the song about his Dad’s death resonate. I genuinely find it hard to listen to. The way Skinner questions his spirituality (or lack thereof), while coming to terms with loss is something I find so relatable as an atheist.

Everything is Borrowed (4:04)
Back to something a little more optimistic. By the end of ‘Never Went to Church’, Skinner seems to have found some closure. And ‘Everything is Borrowed’ really shows the growth from that point. The sheer positivity in the song is refreshing. Skinner is hungry for life and experience and nothing else really matters. Though some of the later albums are a little mixed, I really loved this song. I think it pushes his range a little further.

You Are Not the Voice In Your Head (3:19)
This track was released to accompany a greatest hits tour a few years ago. We’re back on a favourite topic in dating and relationships but this time its way more mature, as he drops the us vs them mentality. The result is a take down of the fragile male ego and how we perpetuate this unhelpful idea of masculinity. It’s a call to do better. And, really, I am just a sucker for the way that Skinner produces these cyclical and drifty piano pieces. ‘Her eyes rolled like a fruit machine not paying out.’

Dry Your Eyes (3:19)
Well we had to finish with this classic. When I first heard this I was put off; ‘Why is this absolute lad being so pathetic?’ But I was just seeing a man being truly vulnerable. And it was unsettling. But I grew to appreciate and then love this song. And really this exemplifies why I love The Streets; it’s authentic, honest, and pretty damn direct.

So there we have it; my best take on The Streets in 45 minutes. I think it is clear why Mike Skinner was and is such an important and unique voice. Beautifully plainspoken, but with some killer hooks. It is front loaded, as his first few albums are generally better, but I’m hopeful the new album will buck this trend. Let me know where I went wrong. I’m sad that I didn’t get to squeeze ‘Stay Positive’ on the list, but it’s just too long. Maybe I’ll just have to go listen to OPM for the millionth time.

Words by Matt Paul

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