Nobody wants to give a kicking to someone they love. And I do love Mike Skinner. Landing in my late teens and the start of my twenties, his first two albums (Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free) felt as if they were soundtracking my life. Stories of mad nights out, madder nights in, relationship highs and lows, and a burgeoning sense of responsibility as you grow from a child to an adult, these were songs that spoke so clearly to a particular generation. My generation. I have laughed, smiled, celebrated, commiserated, and cried with this lyrical genius. So yeah. I do love Mike Skinner.
But I am going to have to give him a bit of a kicking here. None of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive is his first full length release as The Streets since Computers and Blues in 2011, but rather than calling it an album Skinner has gone out of his way to market it as a mixtape. You might wonder why? My first suspicion is that Skinner knows that his best albums worked around cohesion, around a narrative and a concept. This mixtape has none of that. This is a set of songs, all duets, which feels completely and utterly thrown together.
Both sonically and lyrically, this collection jumps about all over the place and feels like a playlist of music from the last decade that has been left on shuffle.
Skinner seems to want to give a nod to every genre he missed out on in the nine years in which he wasn’t releasing music. Unfortunately, though, almost none of that music feels like it belongs on an album that has come out in 2020. This album feels dated already.
Part of the reason for that might be the only thing about this album that does seem cohesive. An obsession with phones. On various songs on this album, Skinner raps about his and other people’s addiction to their screens and their social media. Checking their DMs. There are even songs called ‘Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better’ and ‘Phone Is Always In My Hand.’ These concerns that seem so prevalent on this mixtape were also prevalent ten years ago, and too often on NOUAGOOTLA Skinner sounds like your drunk uncle trying to persuade you to go outside and play instead of sending another DM to your bae.
Unfortunately, this sense of an older man being slightly out of his comfort zone continues across the album. Skinner has always been a lyrics man. It is why we fell in love with him, it is why his albums mean so much to so many, it is why he was one of the most influential people in the world of UK rap over the last twenty years. Those skills are barely on show at all here. I can’t really think of many occasions when a couplet catches my ear or a one-liner knocks me cold. In the past that would happen several times on each song, but here it is much more likely to be the slightly awkward sounding lines such as ‘But if you’re feeling down/I could always feel you up’ that will stick with you long after you finish listening.
But look. I do love Mike Skinner. And much of my criticism here comes from a place of frustration that this project isn’t as strong as the sum of its parts had promised. It isn’t all bad, though. There are songs that do shine. Those songs are the ones that seem more like they belong in 2020, with musical choices that seem current rather than retro. The IDLES featuring title song is one example, as is ‘Eskimo Ice’ with Kasien and ‘You Can’t Afford Me’ with Ms Banks. The features are particularly strong on these three songs, too. But these moments are just too rare. I kind of admire Skinner’s bravery coming out with this now, and especially given the fact that he has roped in some current talent to help out. But at its best his music was made for and by the young, and I can’t see the young getting on board with this. As for me, I’ll stick with those first few albums and revel in the way that, even now, they can transport me back to more carefree days as soon as I put them on my record deck.
Words by Fran Slater.
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