Ever since the launch of VH1's Behind the Music officially deadened the era of rock excess, there's been a debauchery vacuum in America. Rap is usually a poor substitute (its stars are generally too professional for tragicomic self-destruction), although the Streets' latest album suggests that antics are alive and well across the pond. Hardest chronicles Mike Skinner's adventures with fame over Sega-inspired garage beats. "When You Wasn't Famous" and "Hotel Expressionism" are the highlights, dealing with sleeping with pop stars and hotel destruction as art, respectively. Almost every track is equally poignant, from his thoughts about America on "Two Nations" to the spending anthem "Memento Mori." The beats do grate after a while, but the album is relatively short and sweet. Though Hardest lacks the emotional punch of his previous LP, or the revolutionary sonic material of his debut, focusing inward has allowed Skinner once again to stave off banality in album form.
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