CD Review of The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living by The Streets

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The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Vice/Atlantic
Released: 2006
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This much we know: success changes people. The Streets, a.k.a. Mike Skinner, is by most standards a successful person. So, as he releases his third full-length effort, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, we can expect a different Skinner than the one that released the well-received Original Pirate Material in 2002 and A Grand Don’t Come For Free two years later. We shouldn’t be surprised by this change; we should be expecting it.

In just about any business, success usually means money, and money rarely changes people for the better. Such is the case with Skinner who – on Grand’s beautiful “Could Well Be In” - described a nervous first date in an up-front and honest manner, which was surprising at the time, considering that the rap genre isn’t exactly the forum to be discussing one’s vulnerabilities. On “When You Wasn’t Famous,” the first single from Living, instead of describing the frustration over the meaning of an innocent hair twirl, Skinner now whines about how hard it is to land and keep a famous girl, before completely filleting her in the final verse ‐ “Whenever I see you on MTV / I can’t stop my big wide smile / and past the “children’s appeal” / I see the darkness behind / we both know the scratches on my back / much better than the alludes and lies / I miss the bitchin’ and shoutin’ / but I’m glad I got out in time.” Lyrics like these make one yearn for the Mike Skinner of old.

The transformation isn’t just limited to his love life. Grand’s “It Was Supposed to Be So Easy” described a brutal day where everything – from returning a DVD to getting money out of the cash machine – went horribly wrong. On Living, Skinner now describes how to rip off an unsuspecting barman via “Can’t Con an Honest John.” Could Skinner have really gone from the role of lovable loser to primal predator this quickly, or is he just having fun?

Most of the signs point to the latter, and Skinner deserves credit for continuing to write honestly about his life, no matter how trite or superficial it may seem. Like it or not, he’s living in a celebrity bubble, and he’s not about to pretend he isn’t. Skinner’s heart does shine through on “All Goes Out the Window,” in which he describes the struggle, in the face of constant temptation, to stay faithful to a good woman. Lyrics like these – “The chance to see the fit thing naked will spell and mesmerize you / You'll disregard the ways the lady in your life inspires you / which is why the day she tires of you you'll be crying and howling” – indicate that there’s still hope for him yet. “Never Went to Church,” an ode to Skinner’s deceased father, also resonates, but it’s a mighty strange contrast, considering he’s been chasing ass, blow or money for most of the record.

Lyrics aside, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living is chock full of grimy beats, lovely melody, and everything in between. Production-wise, it’s on par or better than Grand, even though the subject matter will make more than a few listeners want to take a hot shower to wash the filth off. But this is where Skinner is at right now – let’s just hope emerges from this decadent period without too many scars.

~John Paulsen