When he dissolved The Streets, Mike Skinner’s first intention was to move into filmmaking. His memoir last year admitted that his most successful record, 2004’s A Grand Don’t Come For Free, followed a screenwriting formula which could be applied to his whole career - Inciting Incident (Original Pirate Material), Villain’s Plan (The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living), Visit To Death (Everything Is Borrowed) and Resolution (Computers and Blues). While nothing cinematic has materialised, The D.O.T. - Skinner's new venture with Rob Harvey of The Music, better known as the screamy bloke on The Streets’ ‘Going Through Hell’ - is as carefully planned as all Skinner’s projects, and to the fury of OPM die-hards also pushes his sound completely into the pop-rock realm of his later LPs.
However, Diary works because of its reliance on Rob Harvey’s howling instead of Skinner’s geezer raps, which felt forced against the softer beats/guitar choruses of final albums Borrowed and Blues. Harvey’s voice is more natural, his everyman lyrics over the keyboard pop of ‘Don’t Look at the Road’ giving a lesson in inevitable relationships (”She cut deep enough/First love dies hard/Just ‘cos you’re walking/Doesn’t mean I have to follow/You’re not making much sense to me”). On the trance-tinged disco of ‘Markers Mark’ he sings of losing yourself in monotony as a cure for unrequited love (”Just because you think it/It doesn’t make it real/Deep down inside you can’t stand the way you feel”), while ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ switches to hip-hop drums and clarinets as Harvey walks away from a breakup, whistling, realising he can shake this anger off his back like a dead monkey.
Skinner sticks mainly to production, though when he takes the mic his accent’s calmer, no longer high on prang. ‘How We All Lie’s laser disco beats and eerie synths see him harmonising ”Sing-songs are over/Now it’s all game on”, finally nailing those high notes that have eluded him, while ‘Under a Ladder’ sees him taking the lead for a driving piano tune full of pool table philosophy. ‘What Am I Supposed To Do’ sets his idealism to chugging rock chords, pushing his limited range to its boundaries. His message is the same as Everything Is Borrowed - stop worrying - but it gels with these more mellow skits of 30-something life, like his debut album rearranged for Radio 2.
Although the shadow of his first band hangs over some songs - particularly opener ‘Make It Your Own’ and its hip-hop fused with classical strings - to pass these tracks off as Streets tunes would have been a stretch. As The D.O.T., the material on Diary has an honesty of its own, at times perfectly balancing Skinner and Harvey’s styles such as the three-note soul loop on ‘Most of my Time’, which features the lyric ”Most of my time is spent thinking about the past”. Although the majority of Streets fans will be crying out for more ”Oi!”-strewn garage, Diary shows Skinner can try something new without compromising the work ethic he so quickly established: be yourself.
7George Bass's Score