The Streets: Computers and Blues – Album Review

The final Streets album of Mike Skinner’s “Five Album Box Set” idea, ‘Computers and Blues’ sees him going back to his samples-and-garage roots. Whilst it’s not the rough and young ‘Original Pirate Material‘, the beats are samples and manipulations of electronic sounds and the lyrics are about drinking, smoking and the odd reflection on life.

But there’s always a general theme with a Streets album, and in 2011 Skinner set his sights on the growing influence on technology. He fits in this change in society alongside some semblance of closing his own arc of the project. What you can take from this album, is Skinner’s own disillusionment and apparent need to just get the album done with.

Out of the discography, this is the weakest out of the five albums. There’s a feeling of lethargy throughout; and ‘Going Through Hell’ can come across as Skinner transforming this feeling in song. But, as many reviews at the time described, songs are on autopilot. In the style of his witty delivery from earlier albums, he’s trying to talk platitudes in a similar style to ‘Everything is Borrowed’. But the music and ambience of that album worked with what were very deep cuts of the psyche, here – there’s a lack of “oomph”.

Whether the intent was to try and emulate or revisit tones and themes of previous albums, tracks would be better served as bonus tracks of previous albums. ‘Roof of Your Car’ sounds good, but just doesn’t hit the right spot as Skinner has done in the past. The feeling of drifting through the album that fuelled the latter half of the second appears in several points of the album.

The albums has it’s high points, though. Even if it’s his weakest, the better songs are still worthy to note. ‘OMG’ is Skinner hitting his old groove and storytelling prowess via the medium of Facebook. It’s a reminder that he knows how to tell a slice of life that a listener can relate to, and allows them to create a wider image than the lyrics describe. It throws in its twists and builds up a vivid idea of what life in a modern digital world can be. ‘ABC’ is a short interlude that’s reminiscent of the first album, having a fun concept that manages to work quite well.

Fittingly, Skinner’s ability to know how to finish an album means that the closing number, ‘Lock the Locks’ is a great way to end an uneven album. Claire Maguire provides the chorus that complements Skinner using a collection of metaphors to describe moving on and leaving a stage of your life. From packing up desks, to nightmares of anxiety over the next step. It’s not a full on loud number, more a gentle fade into the shadows and Skinner reflects on what he’s done and takes his bow. But this being The Streets, he does it in his own way; telling what feels to be a separate story that is blatantly auto-biographical.

Worth a listen if only to finish the story of the five albums, ‘Computer and Blues’ says goodbye to a project that changed how we can see UK garage and rap. Gave us a glimpse into working class Britain and made us laugh and cry in the process.

With the announcement of the greatest hits tour, and a few new songs on Spotify in the latter quarter of 2017, The Streets have returned with new music. It will be interesting to see if it’s a permanent return and if Skinner intends to record a new album. There’s a lot of directions he could toward.

I, for one, can’t wait to see this.

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