RANKED: The Streets

Has it come to this?

Image result for the streets

RANKED has been one of my favourite features to write over the years because it basically gives me an opportunity to produce a love letter to a band or director or whatever it is I’m crushing on that week. It’s easy to write about things that are shit and that venting of delirious rage often makes for the best articles. It is much more difficult to explain why you love something. With that in mind, I have changed it up a bit for this edition of RANKED. Instead of a run down of The Streets best albums this will instead be a list of Mike Skinner’s top ten songs.

I was 15 when Original Pirate Material marked the arrival of one of the UK’s most underrated songwriters. While a lot of the more druggy references passed me by, the debauchery and regret that seeps through that first record has ensured that I discover something new about Skinner’s debut album every time I return to it. While that record takes up most of this article, his whole discography is represented which is a testament to the lasting quality of his work. So let’s put on our classics and have a little dance, shall we?

10. Everything is Borrowed

Album: Everything is Borrowed

Key Lyric: ‘Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they change it…’

The Streets’ 4th album is undoubtedly their least celebrated but it is actually almost as consistent as its predecessor. The title track is the highlight in an album that sees Skinner attempt to move away from songs about getting high and drinking brandy into a more ethereal space. The problem here is that once you have reinvented the wheel it is only a matter of time before you too become old hat. Everything is Borrowed is proof that Skinner still had the magic touch even throughout the tail end of an illustrious career.

9. Prangin’ Out

Album: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

Key Lyric: ‘Suddenly it doesn’t seem like much fun to be off my face at a quarter to eleven am…’

The Streets’ first two albums were party records – more on that later. Prangin’ Out marks the moment when the session comes to a teeth-grinding, bed-sweating conclusion. Skinner’s third album The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living saw the Birmingham rapper emerging from cocaine psychosis and the death of his father to produce a record that is as raw as it is uncompromising. Prangin’ Out is one of the highlights of an emotionally draining album.

8. Empty Cans

Album: A Grand Don’t Come for Free

Key Lyric: ‘No one’s really there fighting for you in the last garrison…’

A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a concept album. A phrase that strikes fear in the heart of any discerning music fan because, as a rule, concept albums are shit. Mike Skinner pulls it off by keeping the concept simple. A man falls out with his girlfriend and his friends over some stolen cash. Empty Cans marks the culmination of this story and it casts a different light on the entire record. The dual narrative works perfectly as Skinner pursues both the angel and the devil on his shoulders.

7. Fit But You Know It

Album: A Grand Don’t Come for Free

Key Lyric: ‘You’re fit, but my gosh, don’t you know it?’

Grand concepts and voice-of-the-working-class ponderings are all well and good but sometimes you just want a party song and Fit But You Know It is an absolute BANGER. If you are somewhere between the ages of 30 and 35 you have bounced around a shitty indie club to this song while art imitated life in the form of being ignored by every fit girl in said shitty indie club. I don’t miss that…

6. Has It Come to This?

Album: Original Pirate Material

Key Lyric: ‘Sex, drugs and on the dole’

It’s impossible when listening to Original Pirate Material not to be instantly transported back to the early ’00s. How sepia tinged those memories are probably depends on your age but for me it was a golden era. Has It Come to This is probably the most prominently nostalgic song on the album. That it still sounds revolutionary is a useful indicator of Skinner’s ability to create something fresh.

5. Turn the Page

Album: Original Pirate Material

Key Lyric: ‘Cause it’s a fine line between strife full time and a life of crime…’

That beat… Wow. Turn the Page grabs you by the minerals and doesn’t let up through one continuous verse and a stirring string arrangement. When viewed purely from a hip-hop perspective, Turn the Page might be The Streets’ finest hour. Lyrically brilliant, musically compelling, fundamentally Mike Skinner.

4. Blinded By The Lights

Album: A Grand Doesn’t Come for Free

Key Lyric: ‘This nights a tragedy, I keep thinking I saw her…’

Blinded By The Lights is right up there with Trainspotting and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a perfect summation of the transformative effect of hard drugs. In this case the visceral and frightening gut-punch of of accidentally taking too much ecstasy. Skinner captures the horror and discomfort of a bad drug experience so perfectly that it is almost difficult to listen to in places. It is also a work of utter genius.

3. Never Went to Church

Album: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living

Key Lyric: ‘ You left me behind to remind me of you…’

Skinner channels his inner Eminem on this emotional tribute to his late father and it is the brutal simplicity of the lyrics that make Never Went to Church so affecting. Having lost my own Dad last year this song has taken on a new significance for me and whilst it is a challenging listen, it’s message of hope and remembrance feels more important than ever.

2. Dry Your Eyes

Album: A Grand Don’t Come for Free

Key Lyric: ‘In one single moment your whole life can turn around…’

This track will always take me back to two seemingly life changing but ultimately meaningless moments. One, being dumped by my girlfriend (deservedly, I might add) in the long, hot summer of 2004 and, two, England being knocked out of Euro 2004 on penalties by Portugal. No wonder I was always drunk that summer…

Dry Your Eyes is the quintessential breakup song. Angry, regretful and a little bit pathetic. In short, it’s a classic.

1. Let’s Push Things Forward

Album: Original Pirate Material

Key Lyric: ‘This ain’t a track, it’s a movement…’

What happens when you mix a ska beat with a bit of trumpet and the voice of a generation? Let’s Push Things Forward happens, that’s what. If you were to distil The Streets down to one magic moment of alchemy, one drop of gold for the masses, one last can of Stella in the back of the fridge, then this track would be it. Totally unstoppable.

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