If Kanye West has been following Mike Skinner’s lead, we can expect him to find peace with himself and come over all philosophical on his next album. The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (2006) was the Streets’ 808’s and Heartbreaks, with a bitter Skinner railing against the alienation, loneliness and shallowness of celebrity. Two years later, Everything Is Borrowed sees a more introspective and less vituperative Skinner turning the page, maturing and moving on.
The crass cynicism of Easy Living has been replaced by ruminative sincerity, as the bloke from Birmingham mulls over life’s weighty concepts — love, religion and, em, the ecology. The shift in Skinner’s priorities is made clear with the album’s cover art: Gone are the gritty, street-lit scenes of urban life, replaced by a waterfall with the song names written in sand.
The album opener and title track sets the tone for the album’s good intentions, with its "I came to this world with nothing and I’ll leave with nothing but love" platitude delivered in Skinner’s endearing off-key singing. With its mellow harmonies and catchy melody it’s probably the best thing on here. The philosophizing continues on tracks like "On the Edge of a Cliff," a parable about a would-be suicide; "Alleged Legends," about the hazards of religion; and the god-awful ecology anthem "The Way of the Dodo," with its irritating "It’s not Earth that’s in trouble, it’s the people who live on it" refrain. This isn’t the first time Skinner has come at us with his conscience — "Never Went To Church" on Easy Living introduced to the sincere side of his character — but this is the first time he’s done so with such condescension.
Everything Is Borrowed is not only about Skinner taking the moral high ground, though. There are still scattered traces of the cheeky chap we fell for on Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come For Free. On "Heaven for the Weather" Skinner, in the midst of the uplifting, tambourine shaking, opts for hell — "for the company" — and with "Never Give In" we’re back in familiar Mike-trying-to-get-a-shag territory, even if elsewhere on the album he’s singing "providing for my wife is the vibe I’m on in life." There’s even a refreshing touch of Lily Allen-esque brashness to be found on "I Love You More (Than You Like Me.)"
The album also marks a shift in the Streets’ sound. There’s less reliance on synths and samples than before, more live drums, guitars, strings and brass along with more experimentation in terms of style. There are the usual nods to ska and U.K. garage, but this time they’re mixed in with rock, funk and the aforementioned gospel-aping tambourine-shaking. The overall effect is a more diluted sound, in keeping with the watering down of Skinner’s diatribes.
Everything Is Borrowed is reportedly the Streets’ penultimate album. Over the course of four albums we’ve seen Skinner morph from angry young man to bitter star to complacent adult. We can only wonder what metamorphosis the final installment will hold — and, while we’re at it, implore Kanye not to follow Skinner’s lead with his next album.