By the time Mike Skinner decided to pull the plug on the Streets, the Birmingham-born rapper was exploring and utilizing pop/rock ballad formulas that often felt out of place alongside his brand of U.K. garage. The Music's Rob Harvey became his go-to chorus singer during these early ventures into unknown terrain and it comes as little surprise to see the pair taking things further with the D.O.T. Both parties, free to explore this habitat on a full-time basis, have pulled the shackles off to create an album full of charm and character, albeit with a few imperfections along the way. Skinner sounds like a man reborn, reaching for the kind of high notes during the kind of ballads that may have hardcore fans of Original Pirate Material wriggling uncomfortably in their seats. But it is Harvey who claims the majority of the vocal duties here, delivering lines with gravitas and heart, such as on the poignant, soulful ballad "Blood, Sweat and Tears," where he laments "And the time that I gave you/I could never take it back/And it doesn't seem to matter anymore." Diary features a wide array of styles, from the vibrant dance of "Wherever You May Be" to the indie pop of "Left at the Lights," but neither of those hit the right note and only serve as evidence that Skinner is perhaps spreading his ambitious production skills a little too thinly. Frustratingly, the quality of Diary does dip in and out, with "What Am I Supposed to Do?" providing an unimaginative guitar bounce, for example. But when it works, it really does produce some memorable moments. The reflective tone of "Don't Look at the Road" is a welcome throwback to the Streets' "Dry Your Eyes," while album highlight "How We All Lie" is superbly crafted; a captivating beat, strewn with a subtle yet affecting piano line, joins Harvey and Skinner as they weave their vocals together tremendously. ~ Daniel Clancy, Rovi

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