September 7, 2008

Borrowed Time As Mike Heads Towards 30


MIKE SKINNER or, to give him his stage name, The Streets, looks a little tired today.

But then, that's what happens if you don't get enough sleep.

"I've been doing Gordon Brown hours lately," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"Maybe not Gordon Brown, actually.

More like Maggie Thatcher in her heyday, four hours sleep a night kind of thing, and constantly on the go."

Any politician looking for a realistic portrayal of life in Britain could do worse than turn to one of Mike's records.

He's been an alternative social commentator since the early noughties, when The Streets' Has it Come to This made the cultural crossover from the small UK garage music and pirate radio scene to the mainstream.

The indie kids and chart fans loved the song's poetic lyrics just as much as the clubbers did.

Just over a year and a couple of equally impressive singles later, came The Streets' first album Original Pirate Material.

The aforementioned track was joined by 13 more dazzling tales of life in the suburbs, clubbing, youth culture and boring jobs, making for one of the most exciting albums in modern times.

Mike, 29, went on to top his debut with an even better follow-up . . . the concept-heavy A Grand Don't Come for Free. Then came the misunderstood third offering, Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living.

Now, it's time for The Streets' fourth album, Everything is Borrowed.

While Mike could be forgiven for being apprehensive or excitable ahead of its release, he's actually calmer than he's been in months. He said: "It's easy to relax when the music is finished.

We're just getting other things done now. We're trying to make eight music videos in three weeks, so things are a bit Challenge Anneka at the moment!"

Unlike previous albums, which dealt with the minutiae of modern living, Everything is Borrowed concerns itself with wider issues such as the environment, morality and religion.

The unmistakable wit is still there in bucketloads, but the album is more sombre than past efforts.

If things had worked out slightly differently, however, the tone would have been even darker.

"I threw one album away," Mike said.

"I didn't think there was a problem at first, but everyone else did, including my mum, who was very vocal about it!

"It was just so tough to work for a year on 11 or 12 songs, and then realise that I needed to start again. It was a bit annoying, really.

"Two of the songs have survived, though. On the Edge of a Cliff, and the other is On the flip of a Coin. If you listen to those songs they're almost like parables. I like them, but a whole album of songs like that would be a little bit non-committal and indirect."

As you'd expect from listening to his music, Mike is incredibly articulate, and manages to sum up his thoughts in a couple of sentences.

What you might not expect, though, is that he seems a delicate soul, vulnerable and deep, traits counteracted by a good sense of humour, and enormously affable nature.

Another song on Everything Is Borrowed, Heaven For The Weather, shows Mike's contem plative side well. In a jaunty, piano-led track, possibly the most upbeat Streets' song - musically, at least - he examines the temptation to be bad and how, as appealing as the concept of heaven might be, hell wins hands down in the desirability stakes, simply because the company is better.

Partying a little too hard is something Mike, who was born in Barnet, north London and grew up in Birmingham, knows a lot about.

After his dad died, just before the release of A Grand Don't Come for Free in 2004, Mike went off the rails into a drink and drug binge, as documented on his third album.

He's fine now, though, and knows moderation is the key to a healthy life.

"You get older, don't you?" he said.

"The year I released Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, I quit everything, for the whole year. Since then, I'm a lot calmer."

In a recent blog on his website, Mike said he would make one more album under his Streets moniker before calling it a day.

He said: "Quitting is for my own purpose. I just don't want to be doing things by habit, and I don't want to make formulaic music.

"I want to get away from my own preconceptions of what I am as a musician, so that hopefully I can keep entertaining people."

Finally, we move on to Mike's impending 30th birthday later this year.

He stops to think about it, which is something he says he hasn't done before: "Maybe I'll think about it on the day. I'm going to go to Thailand to celebrate, I know that much. I'm not worried about it, though.

"I think if I was sitting in my bedroom smoking weed and hadn't done anything with my 20s then I might be a little worried!"

(c) 2008 Sunday Sun - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.