The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
ike Skinner’s entire career is basically one man’s search for a stable fanbase. He hit the ground limping back in mid-2001 as The Man to bring garage into the dinner party set. You know, like Wookie was meant to. He settled into a slightly more successful role as the Poet Laureate for the death of the rave generation: the superclubs were haemorrhaging both punters and money at a steady rate, and the sold-out children from the Second Summer of Love had all taken positions at the mainstream music magazines, and needed someone to sing their pain. Skinner was more than happy to oblige, was subsequently hyped as a soon-to-be chart topper, and promptly had all of his singles stall outside of the Top 20.
Next time around, his attempts at conjuring up a reality of bored jobless inner-city living (always more BSc than DSS), won him the student crowd. A Grand Don't Come for Free sold in numbers, and “Fit But You Know It” satisfied Britain's need for things to come pre-packaged with a catchphrase you can put on a T-shirt.
And then, of course, there was “Dry Your Eyes,” a surrogate “The Drugs Don't Work” for the 00s (with Sol Campbell as Lady Di and the Swiss referee as a tunnel wall at 100 miles per hour). Mourning tends to bring out the worst aspects of the British psyche (petty mindedness, self-pity, nationalism, Chris Moyles) and we get the soundtrack we deserve. The following two singles from the album stalled, though, and it looked like we might have finally seen the end of him as a chart force...
But Skinner's got more cards up his sleeve than Doyle Brunson. So say hello to his new face: celebrity indie musician who has trouble with the laydeeez. Like a much poorer Samuel Preston, basically, sans tattoos.
Single “When You Wasn't Famous” (imagine the Vengaboys stamping on a human face—forever) combines equal parts desperation and misogyny. Gossip pages had been reporting for time immemorial that the lovely if useless Rachel Stevens had repeatedly shunned the romantic advances of Skinner. He took the high road and recorded a song about a MYSTERY POP STAR OF MYSTERY who engaged in hot druggy drug action. With drugs. And then embarked on a marketing campaign that solely consisted of him saying, “I have had sex with a famous pop star.”
Look, it may be reductive to say “The Streets suck because The Specials sucked even harder,” but it’s true. It's unpleasant to listen to, both in content (40 minutes of self-pity that never threatens to (at least) cross into depression), and in sound (nails on glass Mockney combined with beats that are skittish, but never full-on skitzo). Album opener “Prangin' Out” is meant to detail the exhausted cocaine paranoia of a man at wit’s end, but Skinner’s such a bad actor he can't even play himself. Instead, he sounds no more psychotic than a man who's just taken two Anadin. “Can't Con an Honest John,” on the other hand, sounds more like one of the spate of Skinner parodists that emerged at the arse end of 2004, “Gor bloimey guvenah” vernacular plastered over what appears to be our man recounting an episode of Hustle.
For a man whose appeal is meant to be the mastery of detail, The Hardest Way doesn’t offer up much: Mistaking legitimate merchandise for bootlegs is the stuff of small-talk with people that you don't wish to speak to, and not an album closer. “Fake Street Hats” manages to fit in such a tale, anyway, whilst pausing to mention that he may just have slept with one or two women in the previous few years.
The album's so-called “high point,” “Never Went to Church,” is similarly painful. Whilst detailing his father's death, Skinner sounds like a drunken stockbroker karaokeing “A Song for Lovers” by Liberty X (sadly, there’s not even Reverend Run's wacky cape to save us here). “Hotel Expressionism” is Babyshambles remixed by Britain's worst bedroom beatmaker. “Memento Mori” is the theme to a sitcom starring the one with the fucked-up nose from The Mighty Boosh as a cheeky-Cockney antiques dealer.
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living is an exercise in empty nothingness. But it’s not Bacchanalian coked-out excess nothingness, it's the joyless hollow-eyed actions of a man who is waiting for the next fix and doesn't care what bullshit has to come out of his lips in order to get paid. The one saving grace for these 40 minutes is that he doesn't invite his underlings The Mitchell Brothers on to demonstrate why they're the worst rap act ever. For that reason, and that reason alone, this doesn't get bottom marks. Horrid.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2006-04-21