The Book of Traps and Lessons
Kate Tempest has been dazzling audiences with both words for the page and words meant for a stage – via volumes of poetry, plays, a novel and albums – and most often there’s been a rage to her voice that is palpable.
She delivered one of the finest shows I’ve ever seen.
But her latest, The Book of Traps and Lessons, shows a calmer voice; here she’s empath – still raging, but the shake in the voice this time is in understanding that the current injustices of the world are hard to beat, and though we must try we just seem to find ourselves beaten up (“I’m all spirit, but I’m sinking”).
Musically, there’s a stylistic change to suit the new delivery and the integrity of these words. Grimy beats are gone, replaced by soft, swirling washes of keys – Rick Rubin the natural empath (as producer) to Tempest, now softening the storm of her words.
But there’s a shape to this album – it’s less a book of poems, as previous albums have felt, and more a stage-play or novel. There’s the gut-punch of All Humans Too Late, delivered without musical backing. A poem. A set of observations about the sad world of living for show online (“Our minds are racing into the dead/We hurl everything/Against the stop of the blank hand that muffles the mouth/But we can’t win/”I see how blind I’ve been”, said all prophets, too late/All humans, too late”).
There’s a sadness to the voice where once there’d be a show of anger. It’s a different show. And far more telling.
When the music returns, a warm synth-line to accompany Hold Your Own (long a highlight of her spoken word sets) we start to feel the ‘concept’ of this album, the shape, the flow. This is a set of grievances and observations around them. Tempest doesn’t profess to have the answers but she wants to take the time to talk it through.
Spoken-word albums are not for everyone. This one should be Government-issued. A set of headphones and a copy of this wisdom. Each household required to have its occupants taking turns letting this wash over them.
And somewhere in this collection of profound thoughts, Tempest might just have created the love-song of the age. Where once she was speaking to everyone, hoping to be heard, yelling and stalking the stage, here, on Firesmoke she shows something personal; a glimpse that even if not all can be good there’s (hopefully) something for us all, someone for us all, some reason to want to be, to still be here. To be hopeful that the damage will clear.
“I bathe in this fire / it warms without burning, compels without force / and it turns without turning the world / so please, you keep your purpose, your poise and your journey / I’ll be by the fire.”
There is a voice for us. One that speaks from – and to – experience. And in the correct trajectory of an artist Kate Tempest’s world and words and wisdom continues to grow. This is her finest statement to date. But there will be more. And she continues to be one to listen to. To learn from. To love.
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