By the end of the last Streets album, The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living, listeners and even most fans were ready for Mike Skinner to stop complaining about the perils of celebrity. Skinner sounded crass and cynical, utterly disgusted with his life and very bitter about what it had become. (In so doing, it proved that he's one of the most honest songwriters to ever step up to a microphone.) Everything Is Borrowed is a neat about-face, a record that couldn't be more different from its predecessor. Sincere, considered, and poignant, Everything Is Borrowed finds Skinner remaining one of the foremost lyricists in pop music, and so much the better when the focus of his sharp writing is the struggle of weighty concepts instead of flimsy celebrity. Skinner's characters in these parables are struggling, no doubt, but in the process they're also coming upon profound insights about life, death, and love, ranging from the slightly pithy ecology dance piece "The Way of the Dodo" all the way up to the struggle between good and evil in each person ("Heaven for the Weather," which reveals its odd title and its lyrical genius in the line "I want to go to heaven for the weather/But hell for the company"). The instrumentation, as well, is far more different than any previous Streets record. Although the drums don't always sound live, most of the time they are, courtesy of drummer Johnny "Drum Machine" Jenkins. Electric guitar and bass occupy a lot of space, along with the occasional strings and even brass. Nevertheless, since the instruments are wielded the same way that the synths were in the past, there's no radical change in format. Skinner still busies himself speaking most of the verses (often tripping over himself) and singing every chorus (usually off-key), as though he's stumbling upon every genius line, daft as they sometimes sound. He's just as stingy with his productions as he has been ever since the second Streets album, so those who ache for the crystalline production perfection of Original Pirate Material won't find much here to cling to. But singing (or speaking) words of wisdom like this certainly makes up for his gradual move away from the super-producer status he's enjoyed in the past. Suddenly optimistic, or at least philosophical, about life, Skinner catches lightning in the bottle for the third time, and makes it clear that once we're able to look back at the Streets discography -- Skinner has promised that this is the fourth of five -- it will be easy to see The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living much more simply, troubled and frustrating though it was, as a way to exorcise some of his darker demons, and make the journey to the light more invigorating.
AllMusic Review by John Bush