Release Date: Jun 14, 2019
Record label: American Recordings
Genre(s): Spoken Word, Pop/Rock, Poetry
A lyric you missed will jump out at you - and sometimes hit you so hard in the face - you won't understand how you missed it. The album makes us confront the stark reality of how abhorrent we are as a human race. At times, it's almost uncomfortable to listen to. We're reminded of how we're messing up Brexit, how we're killing the planet, how we're striving for an unreachable goal of thinness, how we keep screwing up our relationships, how we're slaves to our phones.
Stark, intimate, and crammed with difficult truths, Kate Tempest's third album holds up a mirror to reveal our most vulnerable reflections. Like a beat reporter to the soul, the London native investigates with uncanny intuition the interior dialogues, self-destructive habits, and beautiful follies of human nature and spits them back at us in gut-punch moments of warning, recognition, and clarity. Nearly three years on from 2016's similarly affecting Let Them Eat Chaos, The Book of Traps and Lessons arrives at an even grimmer moment in time, traversing rampant racism, social media escapism, political division, climate change, and Britain's ongoing post-Brexit struggles.
Beauty squares up to ugliness on the south Londoner's latest, and a tenderness that previously lingered on the edges of Tempest's work steps to the fore. On her last album, 2016’s 'Let Them Eat Chaos', Kate Tempest zoomed in on a single south London street at 4:18am, and captured the mundane, everyday loneliness of seven disconnected strangers in a city crammed with strangers. Honing in on the minuscule details – a novelty doorbell, a lone slipper, a lion’s mouth door-knocker – there was a glimmer of hope at its heart.
Like her two previous Mercury-nominated albums, 'The Book of Traps and Lessons' sees Kate Tempest cast a critical eye over modern Britain, exploring the detrimental effects of our current political narrative and how, together with the isolation and anxiety that social media brings, we are a society broken. "The racist is drunk on the train / The racist is drunk on the internet" she cuts on 'All Humans Too Late'. Instead of working to repair the damage Brexit has caused, she highlights how we are instead "online, venting our outrage / Teaching the future that life is performance and vanity.
The comparison isn't often made but in many ways two-time Mercury nominee Kate Tempest, with her focus on concept, narrative and shifting perspectives, is the UK's answer to Kendrick Lamar. And just as To Pimp A Butterfly was followed by DAMN., the Brockley native’s critically acclaimed grand story Let Them Eat Chaos is followed by The Book Of Traps And Lessons – a series of vignettes. “The tracks comprise a narrative thread and are intended to be listened to in one sitting,” says the third studio album’s press release, and they variously address notions of love, societal injustice, religion, and the struggle to achieve lasting happiness in a world that engineers restlessness.
K ate Tempest's latest record finds beauty amidst breakdown. The spoken word poet - whose last album, 2016's Let Them Eat Chaos, was nominated for the Mercury prize - is known for her chest-thumping, rousing statements. But on The Book of Traps and Lessons, she takes a macro view of people (in one breath-catching moment she counts: "7.2 billion humans … 7.3 billion humans …", and on), before zooming right in to the smallest of intimacies.
So far Kate Tempest hasn't really made a wrong move. Her collaborations with Dan Carey feel like Bowie and Visconti or KRS-One and Scott La Rock, but for the post-clubbing, minimum wage generation. 'The Book Of Traps And Lessons' sees Tempest being more personal and raw than in the past, when she used characters to express her feelings and themes - here she addresses listeners directly, opening up about break ups in a way that feels confessional.