Never to rest on his laurels, Mike Skinner always attempts something different in terms of tone with every album he approaches. The Streets’ penultimate album, “Everything is Borrowed” is the direct opposite from the hedonistic descriptions of fame of the predecessor, “A Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living.” It’s an ambient, more reflective piece of work in which the main theme is self-analysis, finding positivity in life and keeping things peaceful.
Previous albums have demonstrated the more poetic and philosophical side of Skinner, showing a greater understanding of words and how to convey visuals than his initial vocal delivery suggests. It’s one of his main strengths as an artist, and he pushes it to the fore here. There’s a lot of less storytelling in a narrative sense with the songs on this album, instead painting portraits of ideas and vignettes that promote a different mindset from what has happened before. There’s a lack of smoking, drinking and lads-life on this one; as Skinner’s making himself a bit more happy with this one.
The very nature of existence gets questioned, and life and death is right in the forefront of many of the tracks. But the message that Skinner wants to say is that no matter what happens, you’ve lived life and you existed. Titular track “Everything is Borrowed” puts the mission statement right there in the chorus: we were born with nothing. We’ll die with nothing. What’s important is the love and impact that we have in others. It sounds bleak, but there’s a genuinely positive message throughout.
It’s amplified and reinforced with the album’s strongest song, “On the Edge of a Cliff.” A small story where Skinner contemplates taking his life by jumping off a cliff, but gets told sage advice in the chorus. You are the product of millions of years of life, and your ancestors kept on your family line. You are the latest in a long, long line of people and are carrying the love that occurred throughout many different generations. It’s not as plain as the concept of a story that “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” had, but it’s there.
The humour and the jokes aren’t as plentiful here, but there’s still some of the unique Streets wit in some of the songs. But keeping with tradition, they sound different than the comedy songs from other albums. “Heaven for the Weather” is about the perception of good/evil and whether they’re actually interesting. It morphs into something a little more serious as the song carries on; and that is really the closest the album gets to flirting with comedy.
As good as some of the songs are, this more serious tone does begin to drag around the second half of the album. Once “On the Edge of a Cliff” finishes, the album reaches an average lull of songs that don’t really stand out. By the time we get to “Alleged Legends” and Skinner finally tackling the subject of religion, the album’s tone has settled in. It matches alongside the general themes of the album, but the ambience has drifted and the attention of the listener wanes. It gets brought back as the album closer “The Escapist” brings together the themes of the album and works to a grand finale. Skinner knows how to end an album and build to a suitable climax that does leave the album lingering in the memory.
But throughout the album, one of the more unique aspects is the music. The music is a lot more interesting on relistens, and Skinner moves away from the sample machine and uses real instruments to play and layer over the beats. So it’s less garage-influenced and more a prog-rock and soul-like sound. There’s plenty of plucky guitar, a lot of different string instruments creating that positive vibe feeling.
Skinner had said in interviews that the album was a product of a lot of songs being thrown away in an attempt to write the album. At this point in the five album deal he signed, it’s possible that there was some kind of block or disillusionment with the project; but what came out of the recordings was serviceable enough. It’s not the most consistent Streets album, but it’s highs are very, very good.