For the uninitiated, FNL is a teen drama adapted from a Hollywood film of the same name, centred around American college football team Dillon Panthers in a football obsessed Texan town. Money and God are omnipresent concerns, family and football the bedrock of social existence. In many respects, it's standard teen drama, like Dawson's Creek, but filtered through American football rather than a thesaurus. But there's something more here. Something I can't intellectualise away and equally can't reduce to a guilty pleasure. It's not good per se, but its emotionally manipulative in a way that doesn't leave me feeling cheap or abused. It appeals on a base level, visceral even. I like winning. I like competition. I like sport. Just like the Panthers (ahem), FNL can't lose on those terms. And it elicits exactly the same feeling I have when listening to The Streets.
I'm constantly surprised to experience the disdain some people - a lot of people - show towards Mike Skinner. Not feeling the same way, I find criticisms of him alien and unwarranted, often veiled behind what is essentially an inherent classism. Indeed, like FNL, Skinner's best (and worst) work reeks of working class sentimentality and the two new songs I've heard - "The Escapist" and "Everything Is Borrowed" - play true to type.
Whereas Skinner has in the past consistently relied upon modern references - texting, Playstations, drug/drink/gambling culture - he's gone on record as saying that the new album represents a conscious effort to move outside of this comfort zone. While his lyrics have lost a certain amount of their characteristic parochialism in favour of a more ambiguous universality, his concerns remain reflective of that very modern twentysomething ennui. Skinner's perhaps used that excuse for a way of saying that his focus has changed, his muse a little richer in gravitas, or at least that's what he's striving for. The title of "The Escapist" is a give away, the song itself charged with alienation and uncertainty, but incongruently sacchrine sweet, coated rich in strings and a faux-soul leit motif with the faint whiff of ethno-yah! trust fund philosophy in the narrative (and that video doesn't really help). It's both predictable and moving in equal measure.
Contrary to what my conditioned critical faculties suppose, I like it. It pulls my heart strings in the same way a Matt Saracen 40 yard pass with slow motion drama does and I make no apologies for that. But equally, there's the distinct feeling that it's a crass, ill-advised mis-step, trying to say something "important" but just coming off stumbling and cloying and laughable. But that's the beauty of Mike Skinner. He does get it wrong, as cliched as he can be inspired. Just like FNL, I can't switch him off even though my inscribed cultural elitism dictates I should. I want to know where it's going and what he's going to do next, because it's stupid and compelling and funny. Given that I've not yet watched The Wire or listened to Burial, maybe this means nothing, but I'm eschewing critical consensus this time. Just this once, mind...