I honestly can’t remember the last time an album seized my entire consciousness and held my attention completely from beginning to end. I hadn’t even had a drink; I just came home to find the CD had arrived (I know!) and put it in. Minutes later I was entranced, and it held me for its entirety.
I was deeply impressed by Everybody Down, Kate Tempest’s first album. I heard The Beigeness, fell in love, bought the record and was in awe at Tempest’s fast-spitting, hard-hitting, thoughtful lyrics.
This is a bit different. The beats are more consistent, and mostly less harsh. Let Them Eat Chaos is suffused with eighties-inspired squelching electronica. Eighties anything is almost guaranteed to piss me off, but here it invokes visions of Blade Runner as Kate’s piercing, unforgiving voice reminds me of my time living in South-East London, and the juxtaposition seems somehow forward-facing in a way that doesn’t annoy me like the usual tired eighties fetishism. That fad has inspired this, but that’s not what’s happening here.
This is an artist maturing, growing, allowing herself to be darker, more ambitious, angrier. And if the music is less abrasive, the lyrics are a withering, damning attack on everything fake and cynical.
Nowhere is that anger clearer than on Europe Is Lost. A vicious diatribe that somehow manages to feel focused while mercilessly deconstructing nearly every artifice of modern western life. It feels like a battle-hardened sniper is turning, taking aim and shooting with terrifying accuracy, always one step ahead of where you’re looking. It’s not even about any one thing; it’s about how we live now: the lies of modernity and the hollowness at its core.
I cannot stop listening to it.
This is an unashamed concept album. This is art aiming high. Kate doesn’t want to make a nice, soothing sound – she wants to make you think. Although the tracks would (and do) stand by themselves, they are tied together by a meta-narrative of seven neighbours who don’t know each other, all sleepless at 4:18am, all bothered by the same troubles we all have: the pain of heartache, the horrible knowledge that going out partying; enjoying our bread and circuses, just isn’t working.
And actually, the structure helps. It makes you listen to it as a record; not just put on that track you like.
It’s going to lead to comparisons with Mike Skinner of The Streets, who also went ‘concept’ with his second album, used the same harsh, industrial beats, and whose voice is certainly mirrored here, particularly in Whoops.
But Kate Tempest, while having the same popular touch and the same gritty London voice, is not only significantly more eloquent, she is saying something different.
Both feel the pull of the dance music and the substances, and both see that these are mere distractions from what really matters. But while Skinner stopped there, Tempest tells us very explicitly, very poetically what the problem is, and then provides the answer.
The last two tracks, Breaks and Tunnel Vision, unite these seven disparate yet connected neighbours, and lead them out into the rain together, into the brave new world, dropping their masks in unison, giggling with the thrill of letting go of the bullshit. And while I briefly thought nothing could move me like Europe Is Lost, I am humbled by the sheer artistry of this intense climax to an extraordinary, brutal record.
I want to just paste the lyrics here, but that would deprive you of the immediacy of hearing her wonderful voice speaking these harsh truths. Tunnel vision brought disbelieving tears to my eyes with its naked display of emotion.
This album shows us the tragedy of what has happened to the UK, and to London especially; how we have become a society dependent on an ever-thinner veneer of appearance hiding deep oceans of unhappiness. How can we be so dissatisfied with so much?
I wasn’t ready for this vicious vivisection of our collective vision. I wasn’t ready for how it made me feel. I wasn’t expecting to look up at my speakers wide-eyed at such direct, unflinching invective. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved. I wasn’t expecting anything this raw, this focused, this crafted.
Poetry, hip-hop, theatre. Empathy, honesty, fury.
Let Them Eat Chaos isn’t the second album I wanted from Kate Tempest, it’s the album she wanted, and it’s far, far better for it.