I remember where I was when Regan was shot, I remember where I was when Kurt Gibson hit that home run against the A's and I remember where I was the first time I heard "Empty Cans" by the Streets.
The record 'A Grand Don't Come for Free' is a concept album that explores self imposed frustration, paranoia and the struggle to stay profitable. Through the course of the record our narrator (Mike Skinner) explores the aforementioned struggles in Artful Dodger prose. Skinner tells the story of a envelope with $1000 in it gone missing. Who's to blame? Why is no one coming clean? Finger pointing and insecurity sets in. As Skinner holes up in his flat feeling sorry for himself even his TV malfunctions.
As these stories and their paralleled metaphors unfold "Empty Cans" serves as the record's finale. The song works in two opposing parts. The first act an indulgence in self pity: Skinner remarks that it's not his fault there's wall to wall empty cans because everyone is against him. A conspiracy exists as his girlfriend has run off with his best pal and even the TV repair man is in on it as a greater fee to do more extended service has been suggested. Act one culminates with a fight with the TV man (for overcharging him) and a slumber behind drawn shades (feeling sorry for himself)....A deep droning back beat grinds his words of self pity and inquisition of his enemies (everyone).
Our narrator enters with stubborn slumping shoulders in act two but promptly gives in. He invites his friend Scott over to have a look at the TV. He opens his blinds and admits "it's all my my fault theres wall to wall empty cans". Greater possibilities turn droning back beats into a lifting piano roll. He admits shutting people out has only made him feel worse, hearing his friend out brought closure and he may be at fault for his perception of things...."This is where everything started to all turn back".
Scott goes to work on the TV and he sees something obscuring the frequencies.....the envelope with $1000 stuck in the crack of the TV! Skinner's smile turns to a humble squint as he realizes that the bad times with his girlfriend, financial hardship, struggles with his friends and his overall view of humanity had been the culmination of one thing: His Attitude.
"When it rains it pours", we often say. Bad things seem to happen in tandem with one another. This chain of events is the result of the little things that permeate our psyche and create debilitating negativity. Things will happen that are beyond our control, we will try hard and fail, others will get lucky with limited effort and people will fall out of love with us. Life isn't fair and if we give in to the down slope we are bound to crash.
In the professional world I know many people who live in constant discontent: always trying to prove their relevance, distracted by miscalculation, perceivably mired in under appreciation, working harder with less results and without deserved credit. At some point the back beat drone has to turn into lifting piano. When you adjust your attitude, accept things you cannot change and stay the course; eventually the pointing fingers turn into smiles. I struggle with my own validation every day but Skinner says it best in the coda of "Empty Cans": You are the one who's got your back when the last deeds done. In essence, The only expectations that matter are your own.
If you live your life with genuine intent you discover a few universal truths: your failures are usually a result of your lack of effort or mis-perceptions, those pointing fingers do so to keep the spotlight off themselves, and those who take short cuts run into a dead end sooner or later. Believe in your true life's mission, commit yourself with passion fueled generosity, stay focused on the prize and ignore the detractors...you will find success, and moreover, happiness.
His thousand quid save in the bank, the realization of his true friends, and the shame of feeling sorry for himself behind him; Mike Skinner picks up the empty cans that have cluttered his path to success. He draws the blinds and sets out to live his life, unsure of potential results but empowered in knowing the only person capable of keeping him from ultimate success is himself.
"It's the end of something I did not want to end, beginning of hard times to come. But, something that was not meant to be is done and this is the start of what was..."