THE STREETS at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (June 23), doors 6 pm. $24. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The fact that Mike Skinner aka The Streets, is doing interviews while watching the England vs. Trinidad and Tobago World Cup game proves his dedication to his career. After selling over 3 million records worldwide, he obviously takes his job seriously. Still, for the outspoken soccer fan, my presence on his phone is just one of many inconveniences in the life of a superstar.
"You're always on," says Skinner, when I inquire about the drawbacks of fame. "You can't chill out really, cuz there are always people who want to speak to you."
He says his latest album is more than just his take on having his name in lights. More than a few tracks reveal, with the quirky Cockney nuance and authorial detail that made Skinner known, the ups and downs of fame. Heck, the album's even called The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic).
But after setting the bar high and being nominated for Mercury Prizes for each of his first two LPs, 2002's Original Pirate Material (Atlantic) and 2004's A Grand Don't Come For Free (Vice/Atlantic), critics have been a bit hard on Skinner's new effort, complaining of the tired theme.
But the production is some of his strongest, and in my view he's just continuing to be as honest as possible - something he's done since before the new money came in.
Being British tabloid fodder is something Skinner would have self-deprecatingly rapped about during his underground days. Now, it's a reality he deals with regularly and speaks about nonchalantly. (Though I might be mistaking nonchalance for distraction, as England just put Rooney on the field, which is kinda weird.)
"I read recently that I was walking past the front door of a nightclub once and got turned away from the door and started getting abusive," Skinner recounts, making the point about tabloid lunacy. "I even groped a girl a little."
But, admits the scrawny dude (who, amusingly, just signed a contract to run the New York City Marathon to endorse his favourite athletics apparel company), there are also upsides to the platinum life.
"You can get things done a lot easier. I put my label (the Beats) together, and if I want to get producers and directors involved, it's just a lot easier."
Further, American ears are being piqued by his sound. Or were, briefly. While putting together his shameless Biggie Duets album, Diddy invited Skinner to rock with the posthumous B.I.G.
Not surprisingly, Skinner's bold words - including the line "I'm proud we gave you people like John Lennon/even though you shot him as well" - didn't wind up on Duets. As it turns out, The Streets' complex and incendiary commentary about Biggie's death and U.S. gun violence wasn't quite what Diddy was looking for. The track did, however, make it onto his album as the song Two Nations.
On why it didn't get through, The Streets says, "I guess a lot of Americans thought it was a little bit anti-American maybe."