Locked On - 2004 - 51 minutes
There's a face you see every time you're on a London tube. Pasty-faced and pimply under a baseball cap, he's not exactly a criminal, not exactly a thug; he's just a little bit naughty.
Mike Skinner's debut, the fantastic 'Original Pirate Material', was the voice of these faces. The sardonic naturalism of Skinner's lyrics was the perfect complement to the rich mixture of Britpop, hip-hop and garage. With a debut that made such a massive impact, it was difficult to see how those grimy tales of the urban everyday could survive on his second album.
The beats are scarcely improved from the debut, a bit rougher and much less dancefloor-orientated, so there is nothing as propulsive as 'Let's Push Things Forward' or 'Weak Become Heroes'.
Not that he's lost his ability to craft a catchy hook. 'Fit But Don't You Know' drops garage's broken beats in favour of a geezerish guitar reduction of David Bowie's 'Jean Genie' riff. It's a fine new entry to the London school of narrative pop that includes Ian Dury, Madness and Blur. 'Blinded By The Lights' melancholic hook marks it out as one of the better tracks, the lyrical treatment of a jaded E user's disenchantment with the scene is crammed with realistic details.
'Original Pirate Material' ended with the upbeat and anthemic 'Stay Positive'. 'A Grand Don't Come For Free's coda is a darker one, with Skinner sinking into a stupor of alcoholic self-pity before finally reaching an ironic redemption.
The atmosphere is as darkly evocative as the debut, the music has more edge and less charm. There's scarcely a song here that would rock a dancefloor. That might make it a better album in some eyes, for me it was a tad disappointing. But Skinner's vitality and ability as a (say it carefully) poet shines through. He has tripped around the classic second album pitfalls. We've still got love for The Streets.
Tracklisting: It Was Supposed to be so Easy - Could Well Be In - Not Addicted - Blinded By The Light - I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way - Get Out of My House - Fit But You Know It - Such A Twat - What is he Thinking - Dry Your Eyes - Empty Cans