Rap and hip-hop. Concept album. Spoken word poetry. These are some of the phrases that could be used to describe Let Them Eat Chaos, the second album from English poet, rapper, playwright and author, Kate Tempest. Each of these descriptors carries the potential to attract listeners, and each of these descriptors carries the potential to discourage listeners attracted by the others. In many ways Let Them Eat Chaos travels a very similar path to 2014’s, Mercury Prize nominated, Everybody Down, which laid hip-hop beats under Tempest’s intelligent, socially aware, poetics.
Everybody Down was certainly an interesting experiment but, to my mind, the beats were laid on a little too heavily, sonically overwhelming Tempest’s voice. Here, on Let Them Eat Chaos, Tempest’s verse is given more space to make and land her punches, and the musical backing acts as a performative emphasis to the concepts explored. Delicate, bell-like tones, augment the opening of Picture A Vacuum, which opens the album with a truncated creation story; from darkness to light; from nothing to something, and as the listener is brought to earth the music breaks to a disorienting bass line. Such sudden, mid-song, musical shifts represent a trait that exists throughout the record.
For 47-and-a-half-minutes, the listener is invited to contemplate the psychological malaise – inflicted by contemporary society – of seven individuals in London who are awake at 4:18 am. Amongst the characters is a carer coming off a double-shift, downing a drink to deal with the stresses she has just had to deal with; a young PR executive unable to identify the source of his existential dissatisfaction, living in material and financial comfort that should make him happy; and there is a tenant packing up her life as, in mere hours, she is being evicted so that the landlord can renovate the apartment and treble the rent.
Europe Is Lost feels like the standard-bearer for Let Them Eat Chaos, clearly demonstrating Tempest’s political leaning and message – “half a generation living below the breadline” – while also providing the best blend of her poetry and the music. Anyone feeling priced out of living in a major city will relate to Perfect Coffee’s story of gentrification and urban displacement, which features a dark, brooding, musicality that contrasts with a track like Whoops, which is reminiscent of The Streets without especially sounding like them. We Die segues from bobbing groove to a heavy hip-hop bass beat, and the brief Brews acts as an ambient introduction for the arrhythmic/counter-rhythmic Don’t Fall In.
By no means a perfect album – though it demonstrates a solid progression in adapting Tempest’s verse to music when compared to its predecessor – nor is Let Them Eat Chaos a particularly light listen, but it is an album that deserves to find an audience, deserves to be listened to, discussed, and debated. Having won the 2013 Ted Hugh’s Award, Tempest clearly has chops in the poetry department, it just remains to be seen whether her musical endeavours will bring her words to those who mightn’t otherwise hear them.