The Streets, The Hardest Way to Make An Easy Living
The blame for fame falls mainly on the vain.
Nobody likes a complainer, and on the surface that's what Mike Skinner, the British MC who records as the Streets, spends a lot of his third album doing. But that's not necessarily how it comes across. Having become a cult favorite in America and a genuine star in England thanks to a brilliant first pair of albums, Skinner spends a lot more of his third pontificating about fame than would seem strictly advisable. But if 2002's Original Pirate Material helped make the phrase "British rapper" into something more than an instant punch line and 2004's A Grand Don't Come for Free did something similar with the term "album-length narrative," The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living manages to goose its more predictable elements with dry wit and music more detailed than the skeletal Grand or even the fuller Pirate.
Skinner's lyrics, of course, are as detailed as ever. Opener "Pranging Out" is a comic inventory of the underside of the road-living high-life, from cocaine abuse ("Suddenly it doesn't seem like so much fun to be off my face at quarter to eleven a.m… These headaches are getting unbearably nasty") to crappy one-night stands ("The girl in my bed is kind of distant right now/I know she's thinking she's a bit frightened somehow"). "Two Nations" skewers the differences between the U.S. and U.K.: "We build up our stars and then papers sweep on them/And you build up stars and maniacs shoot 'em." And as with Pirate with "Weak Become Heroes" and Grand with "Dry Your Eyes," The Hardest Way peaks with a near-tear-jerker close to the album's end. In "Never Went to Church," Skinner pays tribute to his late father by examining his own similarities to his dad: "You'd put your hand up and interrupt the conversation with a 'But'/People say I interrupt people with the same look/Sometimes I think so hard I can't remember how your face looked/Started reading about dreams in your favorite book." Like the best storytellers, Skinner knows it's the details that count.