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The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (Bonus Tracks)

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Album Review

It's a common problem among artists who are also working-class social critics: if they become successful, it's increasingly difficult to go back to the well when everything they've used for material changes drastically — friends and lovers, home life, work life, and social life. The wallflower who could study his subjects for hours suddenly lacks for good material when he's the center of attention. Apparently, success has spoiled Mike Skinner. Instead of attempting the charade of being a working-class chronicle, he's moved on to the types of problems that come with celebrity, including trashed hotel rooms ("I make these crap rap rhythms to pay the hotel bills that fund my passion"), isolation and loneliness ("I got nothing in my life away from the studio"), fake Streets hats ("Fake Streets Hats"), and the other vagaries of fame ("Camera phones — how the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers, when I know they've all got cameras?"). So, are these Skinner's sincere reflections on his surroundings and an artistic statement he's proud of, or are they the result of a parodic persona he's assumed, with its requisite shroud of satire? That's a difficult question (despite Skinner's own assurances that he's sincere), primarily because of all the cynicism, paranoia, misanthropy, and betrayal on this record. Humility has been replaced by arrogance, reflection by anger, and humor by sullenness. The production has changed little from the last record — hard-hitting, synth-based productions with minimalist melodies and tough, clanging percussion, except for the occasional piano-based ballad. Skinner's lyrics are striking and distinctive as before, but it's difficult to believe this is the same artist who confronted a stereotypical lager lout named Terry on his first album, a track titled "The Irony of It All." The irony here is that Skinner sounds more like the lout. [The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living is also available in a clean version.]


Formed: 27 November 1978 in Birmingham, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Mike Skinner's recordings as the Streets marked the first attempt to add a degree of social commentary to Britain's party-hearty garage/2-step (and later grime) movement. Skinner, a Birmingham native who later ventured to the capital, was an outsider in the garage scene, though his initial recordings appeared on Locked On, the premiere source for speed garage and, later, 2-step from 1998 to the end of the millennium. He spent time growing up in North London as well as Birmingham, and listened first...
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