There's something engaging and sincere in a low-class British accent that makes women swoon and men tremble. It could be the truncated vowel sounds, slurry phonemes or even the rhyming slang found deep in the slums of London. Just like a Guy Ritchie adaptation of Johnny Appleseed, Mike Skinner recognized this cashcrop in his own vocal chords and cultivated it. Rather than attempt to harmonize the mannered electronic tones with his vocalic speech patterns, Skinner talks loosely overtop a bass-thump, letting his captivating voice and faculty for storytelling drive every track.
The Streets' latest opus, The hardest way to make an easy living, clears the high-bar set by the 2004 concept album, A grand don't come for free, if only just. The previous release broke listeners' hearts with an 11-track story detailing one of the worst days ever to happen to anyone, the funky slowjams carrying it the extra few feet that the grime-and-grease honesty in Skinners' voice couldn't. While The hardest way to make an easy living breaks from it's predecessor in it's lack of an overarching concept and a few tracks that put a new twist on familiar issues (like the incredibly catchy "war of the sexes"), most of the songs still fall a little too neatly into place next to the old ones. The new album is by no means a step backward; it just isn't really a step forward either.
Listening to hardest way, it feels like Skinner just couldn't quite get out all he wanted to say with don't come for free, so he crammed all the leftovers into a turntable powered microwave and set it to "Hiroshima." No fan of The Streets is going to complain about getting another taste of the 2004 delicacy, but those following Skinner's musical progression might be sad to see him cooking from the same book. Maybe the next CD under the Streets' name will be the album everyone's waiting for: the same five-star cooking with a few new spices.