The Streets - None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive Music Album Reviews

On the Streets’ first album in nine years, the UK rapper returns to the simple snark of his early music, but his youthful misadventures have been replaced by the jaded pronouncements of middle age.

In 2011, after nearly a decade of attempted reinventions, Mike Skinner walked away from the Streets. His debut, Original Pirate Material, was a landmark for UK rap, and its follow-up, the concept LP A Grand Don’t Come for Free, was an even more ambitious and experimental storytelling experience, but subsequent albums brought diminishing returns. He’d already revealed he was “fucking sick” of the name and its implications, and he was exhausted and running out of ideas. “I think it would devalue it to say that it was cynical but I know what I’m doing with the Streets—I’ve been doing it for too long,” he told The Guardian. “I don’t want to do the Streets anymore. I should have moved on a long time ago.” In 2009, he told NME he wouldn’t revisit it unless he was 40 and broke. He stayed busy after 2011’s supposed swan song, Computers and Blues, starting a new project with the Music’s Rob Harvey, restarting his indie label, and even DJing. In 2017, Skinner announced a Streets greatest-hits tour, then formally resurrected the project. He says he isn’t broke but there are other reasons to be pessimistic about this revival: “The reason I finished the Streets was to make a film,” he told Mr. Porter, “and the reason I started the Streets up again was to make a film.” This new album is, in part, a marketing campaign to produce a movie.
None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive is his first album in nine years; Skinner also happens to be 40 now. It’s that kind of funny coincidence that seems fit for a candid Streets lyric, but he doesn’t mine his departure or return, or the reasoning behind either, for material. Dubbing this a “mixtape” instead of a proper album implies a clear effort to take some of the pressure off, especially from an artist so serious about craft and process, but the distinction does feel apt: Every single song has a feature, following a format similar to his only other mixtape, 2011’s Cyberspace and Reds. That record showed a curiosity for British rap that was missing on Computers and Blues and is rekindled here. A cadre of young rhymers appear across the tape eager to make the most out of the opportunity. But in doing so they make Skinner feel archaic.

He returns to the simple snark of his early music, only the cheeky misadventures of his youth have been replaced by jaded pronouncements from middle-aged life, where dating is an ordeal and the hangovers are longer. The mixtape is better produced than his last few outings, with slicker songs where he once again futzes with dance music, rap beats, and UK garage rhythms, as well as sampling UK funky and drum’n’bass. He told Apple Music his focus was to avoid getting bogged down by concepts and just say “some cool shit,” and there are flashes of that irreverent charm. On “Same Direction,” his raps embody the awkwardness, hilarity, and thrill of a tryst gone awry. Unfortunately, most songs on the tape fail to harness that same sense of in-the-moment acuteness.

Much of None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive is fixated on smartphones—specifically, using them to ignore people. Phones can be an excellent talisman for examining our deteriorating interpersonality; take, for example, the photobook Screen Time, or another mixtape, Erykah Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone. Yet these songs have about as much insight into our pocket screens as Quibi execs. On more than one occasion, Skinner cringes at the state of women’s DMs, weighing unsolicited come-ons with the insight of someone who was hipped to this by the short story Cat Person. (Seriously.) There’s the super literal song “Phone Is Always in My Hand,” which is lazy and obvious in its depictions of avoidance (“You’re ignoring me, but you’re watching my stories”). There’s even a flatness to his quips about the primacy we place on always being on: “You know I’d give you my kidney/Just don’t take my charger,” he raps on opener “Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better.”

His sense of humor remains intact (“Plans always become dead/I told you I’d come for the jokes/But that was two hours ago, I was younger back then/I was full of hope”), but the bits land with far less frequency and force. In the early ’00s, he introduced what felt like a novel and necessary perspective to rap, stumbling between clubs and pubs, flitting aimlessly between rap and garage, bringing to light the nuances of lad culture, its gags and slang and monotony. He was an observer rapper surveying his insular world with a wink and a shrug. On this tape, his scrutiny mostly feels pointless. “Man, God has it backward, God has seen it all/But if God had dropped acid, would God see people?” he asks clumsily, barely rhyming his inane attempt at stoner profundity.

The main knock on Skinner throughout his career has been that his spoken-word flows can be clunky and out of pocket. There can be a disarming and charming quality to his rapping when his wit is sharpest, and the phonetics of the title track’s last verse distract from its frivolousness, but in the moments where his raps are edgeless and obtuse they can really grate, and it has only gotten worse with age. His rapping on None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive often lacks any sense of rhythm or finesse. This problem is only exacerbated in the company of nimbler peers, especially Ms. Banks, Jesse James Solomon, and Oscar #Worldpeace. His rhymes don’t always catch the beat, and, when running side by side with a new crop of MCs, he is usually outpaced. Reading his explanations for choosing the guest rappers, it’s clear they moved him, but he might’ve been better off simply ceding them the space and stepping away. With this new tape, the Streets are officially back, but Skinner never convinces us why they should stay.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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The Streets - None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive Music Album Reviews The Streets - None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, July 23, 2020 Rating:

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