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On "Let's Push Things Forward," the rollicking, brass-balled standout from his 2002 debut Original Pirate Material, Mike Skinner - aka the Streets - issued his mission statement: "I make bangers, not anthems." It was at once a boast and an admission. The lyric is both a gauntlet tossed at the feet of mainstream pap and a self-deprecating acknowledgement of personal limits. These were the two modes that the early Mike Skinner worked in: swagger and stagger, fist pump and shoulder slump. They interacted magnificently, infusing each of his albums with a delicious mixture of cocksure highs and self-flagellating lows.

On Computers and Blues, purportedly the final Streets release, we find Skinner losing sight of the polarity that made his early work so vital. There are anthems aplenty here - most notably "Going Through Hell, " a fratty, cliche-burdened ode to perseverance and fisticuffs - and lamentably few "bangers." On several tracks the production is too slick by half; on others it seems cluttered and arbitrary - one strains to imagine why Skinner thought it was a good idea to include a sitar breakdown in the strings 'n synth meditation "Trying to Kill M.E."

Skinner also makes a number of disappointing concessions to radio pop. On several tracks he cedes chorus duties to Auto-Tuned female belters, who tend to give off the unwelcome scent of bloodless studio artifice. Perhaps most disappointingly, the lyrics here have taken a sharp turn into vague-land. He can still make with the acrobatic wordplay, but on Computers, Skinner sacrifices the barstool-philosopher precision of his earlier rhymes for meandering, theme-addled head trips.

It's not all bad. Really, it's not bad at all. Skinner's tossed-off, drawling flow still hypnotizes, and there are a few tracks - like "Without a Blink" - that pack a hell of a wallop. Even those disco-ized choruses can be relatively catchy once you let them get their hooks in. Still, you can't help but feel that there's more evidence of exhaustion than inspiration in this album. Skinner has reached the end of his decade-long pub crawl, and it seems that his head is pounding too hard for him to deal with anything that sounds too razor-sharp or brick-heavy. A shame, but then every bender's got its hangover.

Contact Zachary at [email protected]

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