Having released her first novel The Bricks That Built the House earlier this year alongside running a promotional book tour, touring Australia and playing Glastonbury, Let Them Eat Chaos marks Kate Tempest’s second studio album in two years. In the wake of Brexit Britain, Let Them Eat Chaos is a shrill protest that confronts head-on socio-political injustices from the heart of the modern city condition and from the forefront, the title points directly to a divided and anarchic state. Tempest wrestles with the global destruction of our planet, the refugee crisis and the absence of compassion for fellow humans in a polished and filmic voyage through life and death, entrenched in binaries that opening track ‘Picture a Vacuum’ lays bare.
“Picture a vacuum: an endless and unmoving blackness. Peace; or the absence at least of terror” commands the opening seconds of the album and earmarks these concepts of absence and duality; before pausing for contemplation with the Tempestian cadence “but look”. There are tons of intertextual references across the album spanning Tempest’s literature, music and poetry which binds her artistic values within this love letter to Mother Earth. The album charts one simultaneous minute in the lives of seven central characters; Gemma, Esther, Alicia, Pete, Bradley, Zoe and Pious, all eventually engulfed in an Old Testament style downpour on final track ‘Tunnel Vision’ that alleviates them of their former preconceptions till “they see their city anew”.
‘Lionmouth Door Knocker’ uses an almost telescopic narrative to shrink and swell over a London landscape of bored workmen and haggling grandmothers; the central motif being the boundaries and limitations of class. Often critically compared to Virginia Woolf as well supposedly citing her as an influence in an interview several years ago, Tempest recently admitted at a Q&A at the Barbican centre that she had honestly never read any Woolf, though appreciated the esteem of this comparison.
‘Ketamine For Breakfast’ mirrors this stylistic idea, assembling filmic images within the cityscape, surrounding the character of Gemma. This soon surges into a grubby account of narcotic induced memories and the generational desire to pacify one’s mind. ‘Whoops’ also touches on this idea in the comic study of Pete; a character present in Tempest’s previous 2014 album Everybody Down. Pete is seen here as the blundering inevitable waster who possesses a warped perception of love, “love is only real when you start choking, I’m double dropping in a vast ocean”.
Shining singles ‘Europe is Lost’ and ‘Don’t Fall In’ marry well thematically. Having debuted last November ‘Europe is Lost’ appears on the album with the addition of a preface that introduces the character of Esther; a night-shift working carer who lives “in a basement flat by the garages where people dump their mattresses” an image that chimes familiarly true with Tempest’s home district of South-East London, Brockley. The track is a bitter and jarring execration of society’s bad guys and the malevolence of the “systems too slick to stop working”. It commiserates the fruitless pursuit of capitalism compared to the strife of the victims of global terrorism. It laments the placating of the angry mob through cheap booze and futile pleasures, as well as those who the system has failed; “stuck like stones in the slip stream”, reminiscent of Tempest’s primary influence William Blake. “I am feeling the onset of riot” Tempest croaks. The second climax of the album ‘Don’t Fall In’ is similarly raw and disdaining with the chorus leading “hard rain falling/on all the half-hearted/half fall/ half walking/ half fury/half boredom/hard talking/half dead from exhaustion/ half pushed but the puddles keep forming/ don’t fall in”; a grinding and convoluted mantra. Track five, ‘We Die’ presents the character of Alicia with a subdued tone and fast delivery, ushering a poignant comment on personal loss and how it permeates daily life as well as the spiritual act of grievance.
Entitlement and gentrification are touched on in ‘Perfect Coffee’ as well as ‘Pictures On a Screen’ the latter marking the late-night disassociation of a successful young professional. ‘Perfect Coffee’ hones in on the perpetually changing landscapes of urban living that gives way to rising house prices overseen by “luxury residents puffing on pleasure”, as well as commenting on Zoe’s obsessive materialism.
Bleeding with fury and malcontent, Tempest asks on ‘Tunnel Vision’ “What are we gunna do to wake up?”; a question first posed on ‘Europe is Lost’ that is threaded neatly through the work. ‘Tunnel Vision’ is an exposé, with lines such as “Indigenous apocalypse, decimated forests, the winter of our discontent’s upon us” bleakly delivered by a misanthropic Tempest. Convictions such as “Thinking we’re engaged when we’re pacified, staring at the screen so we don’t have to see the planet die” and “the myth of the individual has left us discontented, lost, and pitiful” make for charged poetry.
Let Them Eat Chaos is a thorough excavation of human nature, scorning a collective absence of empathy and is a dazzling feat from the UK’s most accomplished jack-of-all-trades creative super-human.
Let Them Eat Chaos is released through Fiction Records on the 7th October, and can be pre-ordered now. Kate Tempest shall be touring the UK in December.