The last 12 years since The Streets released Computers and Blues has hardly been uneventful. The 2012 Olympics, Brexit, Trump, Covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a general acceleration in technology dominating our lives. Whatever happened to Mike Skinner, Kevin Mark Trail and Robert Harvey during that period helped them make a record that can sit comfortably with their best work.
No Millennial worth their salt has forgotten sitting on a bus listening to Original Pirate Material, convinced they’re in Kidulthood or an episode of Skins. And Skinner and co. have absolutely rekindled that magic for this record. ‘Troubled Waters’ comes alarmingly close to achieving the mix of melancholy and euphoria that ‘Blinded by the Light’ woke us up to.
But a straightforward rehash this is not. The title track’s introduction of 1930s ballroom jazz samples and the tumbling banjo in ‘Walk of Shame’ show Skinner’s willingness to experiment. Whilst much of the lyrical subject matter echoes previous themes, The Darker the Shadow the Brighter the Light opts for a more reflective, almost subdued tone.
And there is indeed a sadness to all of it. A significant chunk of Skinner’s poetry betrays observation of an empty routine in which Skinner battles daily with his demons: “I can see another bright and sunny day / Without me in it”; and “Outside of the nightclub I don’t know what to do / Inside of the nightclub it’s too dark to care”.
The big changes in smartphone technology that have wrought so much change in social situations also come under scrutiny in ‘Good Old Daze’: “Surprised by a look / From some eyes that are up / Before their iPhone summons them / And I’m left looking / At eyes that shrug”. It’s bluesy. But it is not dispirited. The name of the album and titular track themselves express this: the universe balances itself out, and if we endure those tough tribulations, we get to enjoy more the good times, like on ‘Each Day Gives’ (accompanied by some rare autotune).
Then why isn’t it perfect? During their formative years, Skinner and The Streets offered an acutely contemporary account of the early 2000s British experience, replete with all the youthful angst. It was almost a decade before social media would come to dominate everyone’s lives, and another half-decade before smartphones would follow us everywhere and segment ourselves into a different reality. It must be hard to be inspired by such a landscape. Harder still to write lyric poetry about it.
And yet, still, this album has a magnetic pull. It’s uplifting. Skinner’s many years on the DJ circuit have resulted in mixes in this album that feel familiar but also fresh. Streets fans can tune in and get everything they want. New listeners can raise an eyebrow in pleasant surprise at a band that sounded like no other from the get-go two decades ago. And they still refuse to change. There’s no need.
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