(Atlantic Records, February 7th)
Mike Skinner is a man with a point to prove. Computers and Blues represents Skinner’s sixth try at stardom, and it really is a melange of dance-grunge, techno-soul and indie pop. The music itself is nothing to be sniffed at, but it’s a shame that Skinner’s voice sounds so distinctly ordinary against the rich backdrop. Skinner sounds anything but confident on any of the tracks, his unsure vocals matching his quite ordinary lyrics (“If you’re going through hell” repeats in “Going Through Hell” as if he had a momentary mental blank while penning it).
Skinner originally planned this as the last The Streets album, and it’s a shame that he didn’t produce a masterpiece to finish off a very decent spoken-word career. Computers and Blues meanders through around 40 minutes without ever causing anything more than momentary surprise at something breaking the monotony. Mind-numbing lyrics (“Puzzled by people” involves the depressingly simplistic “I’m two down you’re one across the room”) and a very distinct aversion to any sort of dynamic variation lead this album to become more effective as elevator music than something to hit the radio.
This isn’t to say it’s all bad, though. “Blip On A Screen” indulges in fanciful techno-RnB with orchestral licks and is big enough for a stadium but at the same time small enough for an intimate setting. “We Can Never Be Friends” makes use of warped acoustic guitar to a laid-back funk beat, and the chorus is an arm-waving crowd hit, before a tasteful guitar solo with lightly peppered percussion.
However, these are the exceptions. By and large, Computers and Blues tries too hard to be an epic hit along the lines of The Joshua Tree or Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, with a spoken-word twist. Skinner would have been better sticking to the style that saw Original Pirate Material widely acclaimed and declared Entertainment Weekly’s album of the year in 2003. Here, any attempt at variation by Skinner is either too laboured to spontaneously demonstrate his true creativity or too blase to reveal any of the depth that is undoubtedly there.