It really does say something when an album fails to get reviewed on this site. Sometimes people just don’t realise that a classic album has fallen through the cracks (hence “The Chronic” only being reviewed last month). Otherwise, it tends to be more obvious – the missing album stinks. However, when an artist’s first two LP’s get a classic rating on RapReviews, that third album must either be total rubbish or worse – completely insignificant. Either way, the third Streets offering, whatever the fuck it was called, proved a massive bore – after the magnificent and, yes, CLASSIC “A Grand Don’t Come For Free,” success and copious amounts of drugs (allegedly) went to Mike Skinner’s head. He has since practically disowned it, and with good reason – it sank almost without a trace.
Now on his fourth album, released a couple of months prior to his thirtieth birthday, we find Skinner coming back down to earth with a bump. Whilst he (misguidedly) took on the trappings of fame and fortune on whatever that third album was – he should’ve just remade “Mo Money Mo Problems” and be done with it – “Everything Is Borrowed” finds him essentially clean of narcotics, and in a much more contemplative and philosophical mood. Plus his art of story-telling makes something of a comeback, underpinned with richer production than “A Grand” – this time, however, we have no clear protagonist, rather a collection of (sometimes) interesting parables. In other words, this is his audio self-help manual.
Now, you won’t find me self-help bashing â€“ no, nay, never. In fact, anyone that wants to help themselves, or others, will get a firm pat on the back from me. However, it helps if there is a genuinely unifying concept – other than the fact that you’re not high anymore. What we find here is Skinner immediately post-comedown, occasionally lucid but more reminiscent of Renton in “Trainspotting” straight after he sees the dead baby – he is still trying to make sense of the world, and his place in it. That doesn’t make for a particularly gratifying listen, as those that write decent self-help books tend to have actually come through the storm and gained genuine wisdom after a number of years. Add to that his inane Sesame Street style of spelling out the chorus (and even song titles) as if we are all morons, and it becomes easy to overlook the fact that, out of eleven tracks, there are actually a few very good songs here.
Skinner definitely sings just a bit too much on “Everything Is Borrowed” – almost as much as he raps, or so it feels. It doesn’t help that the melodies are dangerously catchy, and it is easy to get hooked into the sing-alongs without gaining anything meaningful. However, along come stunning songs such as the super-sweet “The Strongest Person I Know” (somebody is a Joanna Newsom fan, no?) and the ambitious “On the Flip of a Coin.” Even the music is generally clear of average (see “The Escapist” and the Bowie-esque roll of “Never Give In”). Yes, the album even manages to improve on every speedy listen, in a way its predecessor never did.
However, one can’t help feeling like a psychiatrist, having to sit and listen to a pampered celebrity blather on about how they’ve discovered the true meaning of life, when all they’ve really done is stopped being a drug addict. If they’d had all that wisdom in the first place (or at least out of the public eye), maybe they could have made a more interesting album. More than that, Amy Winehouse may be as crazy as fuck, but at least she bought into her own drama and turned it into brilliant art – here, Mike Skinner barely seems to believe his own words as soon as they leave his mouth. Like the core message of “Everything Is Borrowed,” this album will, unfortunately, come and go soon enough, little trace left behind.