Ten years ago an unknown Mike Skinner implored us to “push things forward!” and leading from the front he gave us two albums that reinvented UK hip hop – ‘Original Pirate Material’ and follow up concept album ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’. The Streets sounded like no one else, simply by being unquestionably British; documenting kebab shop scuffles over Compton drive-bys and giving us an alternative to the then unstoppable – but hardly relatory – raps of Eminem.

Skinner remains true to his word today. He said the fifth Streets record would be his last and ‘Computers & Blues’ definitely is. It’s probably his third best record. It definitely features some of his best tracks this side of ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’.

‘Puzzled By People’ is especially reminiscent of Skinner’s early high standard, featuring a late ’90s RnB piano hook and an auto-tuned soul vocal like those found in provincial clubs when UK garage first emerged. ‘Going Through Hell’ – all faux rock riffs and “Do it! Do it!” lairy refrains – assures us that ten years on the game hasn’t quashed the geez or humour in Skinner; the double-dutch couplets of ‘Outside Inside’ that would twist and knot lesser skilled rhyming tongues suggest that The Streets might be getting put to bed prematurely.

At the other end of the scale, down where the likes of 2008’s disappointing ‘Everything Is Borrowed’ stews in its misguided, commercial vibes, are tracks like the almost passable ‘Roof of Your Car’ (a song so breezily aware of its own organ pop heart that it’s most likely to be the album’s lead single), the even more annoyingly chipper ‘Without A Blink’ and the plainly sickening ‘Blip On A Screen’, throughout which Skinner expresses his love for a foetus on a scan.

Thankfully, these three potholes on The Streets’ final stretch of road aren’t enough to disrupt our bon voyage ride too much. Once they’ve passed there’s still a weepy to finally replace ‘Dry Your Eyes’ (although ‘We Can Never Be Friends’, as its title suggests, doesn’t share the same sense of optimism that that Streets hit did), a song of heartbreak via Facebook called ‘OMG’ and another strong highlight in ‘Trying to Kill M.E’, on which Skinner seems to tell of knocking the thing he loves most on the head – not music but weed.

And before long we arrive at the final ever track on the final ever Streets album, which is quite sad. ‘Lock The Locks’ is as poignant as you’d hope it to be from a man who once gave us ‘Stay Positive’ and ‘Weak Become Heroes’. Thinly veiled behind a first hand account of quitting an office job and packing an anonymous desk into a box, Skinner defends his quitting by rapping, “Even though to most it looked random/my heart had left/I was going in tandem.” It’s the only track that references The Streets’ retirement, and it’s more matter-of-fact than it is sombre – the beats and reggae-tinged guitars are positively upbeat. It’s a powerful parting shot, and ‘Computers & Blues’ is a fine memento of a real game-changer.

By Stuart Stubbs

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