Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Music Love: "Empty Cans" by The Streets

Originally, I was going to write this post about The D.O.T., the second project of British musician Mike Skinner, whose first project was The Streets. I adore The D.O.T., and consider them far more accessible than The Streets, but as I was mentally composing the post, my mind kept drifting to what I wanted to say about The Streets instead. Eventually, I realized what I had to do.

I’ve had a deep, abiding love for The Streets ever since I heard the song “Fit But You Know It” on FIFA 2005 (a soccer video game, for those of you not in-the-know). That song led me to buy the album A Grand Don’t Come for Free. Eventually, I would own all of their albums, but my first one has always been my favorite.

I think that Mike Skinner is an incredibly talented writer, composer, and musician. Sometimes his songs are irreverent; sometimes they’re deeply touching; often they’re so on-point it’s almost scary (“Never Went to Church” is one of the best songs about the reality of grief that I’ve ever heard). I particularly like A Grand Don’t Come for Free because it’s a concept album, and I’m a sucker for a good concept album.

In the opening song, “It Was Supposed to Be So Easy,” Mike has one of the worst days of his life, the kind of day where absolutely everything goes wrong, including losing 1,000 quid, or pounds (money). Over the course of the album, Mike lives the kind of life most guys in their early to mid-20s live: going out clubbing, getting a girl, hanging out with friends, going on holiday, and, in the penultimate song, “Dry Your Eyes,” losing the girl. In Portland, where I lived at the time the album came out, “Dry Your Eyes” was a minor radio hit with a version that featured Chris Martin of Coldplay. He’s not on the studio release.

One of my favorite things about this album is that the music of each song is reflective of what’s happening in it. “Blinded by the Lights,” wherein Mike goes to a club, gets high, and freaks out, has intense, distressing music that makes me feel as tense as he does. In “Get Out of My House,” featuring a fight between Mike and his girlfriend, the music is angry and discordant. It’s very cool.

All of this leads to the song above, “Empty Cans.” Having just broken up with his girlfriend, Mike is in a bad mental state. The song presents two different ways that his life could go from here. In the first, he rejects a friend’s offer to help him fix his broken TV (he feels that the friend has betrayed him), calls a repairman, but then comes to believe that the repairman is trying to cheat him. Things devolve from there. The music is heavy, Mike’s voice is detached, the lyrics are negative. In the second, after a rewind, Mike accepts his friend’s offer to fix the TV. His friend not only fixes the TV, but finds the 1,000 quid he lost at the beginning of the album. Things get better from there. This part of the song starts as heavy as the first part, but slowly the musical notes of hope creep in, until they take over. I love the beautiful refrain here, a perfect encapsulation of the end of a relationship, “It’s the end of the something I did not want to end, beginning of hard times to come. But something that was not meant to be is done, and this is the start of what was.”

To me, this song is absolutely brilliant. I like to listen to it whenever I’m in a bad mental place, because it reminds me that my negative thinking may be coloring my view of the world. Also, sometimes I really need to hear this lyric: “No one’s really there fighting for you in the last garrison. No one except yourself that is, no one except you. You are the one who's got your back till the last deed’s done.” I need that reminder to look out for myself.

I don’t know many people who’ve even heard of The Streets. Of the ones who know them, even less seem to like them. I gather that a lot of people don’t like Mike’s voice. I don’t have a problem with it. My husband complains, “He doesn’t sing; he talks,” which I think is hilarious, given how much my husband loves rap. Even as spoken word, I think it’s amazing. So, just for this one day, I beg you to give them a chance, and listen to this song. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Patricia said...

I was put off at first with all the spinging. (Which is what I call speaking and singing a la Lou Reed.) I actually was put off enough that I had to do a data entry task while I listened so I could have some distance.

And that meant that I was only half listening to the story, but it also meant that I noticed when the hope started filtering in. And I loved the refrain too.

I like how he tells stories. One of my favorite story telling songs is "That's Me Trying" with William Shatner and Ben Folds. I have to listen to it every once in a while.

balyien said...

I've never heard of the William Shatner/Ben Folds song! I'll listen to it when I get a free moment.

I do understand why The Streets aren't everyone's cup of tea. Skinner's latest project, The D.O.T. has a different singer. Skinner sings a few of the songs, but he actually sings them rather than speaks them. That's why I think it's more accessible.