Kate Tempest: Everybody Down

[6 August 2014]

By Brent Faulkner

Going against the grain is a dangerous art, at least presently. For the nonconformist musician brave enough to buck trendiness, the path can be a difficult and lonely one. On Everybody Down, British spoken word artist and MC Kate Tempest delivers an ambitious album that eschews the traditional confines of rap. Sure, Everybody Down features some hip-hop cues—namely hooks—but the effort is ultimately unorthodox. Tempest portrays a poetic narrative that’s incredibly ambitious. Fascinating as it is, Everybody Down requires an open mind to appreciate it to the fullest.

Generally, throughout the album, it is easy to acknowledge Tempest’s talents. Her lyrical and poetic skills are magnificent. What’s harder to process is Tempest’s sensibilities in tying the pieces together. Opener “Marshall Law” immerses the listener into Tempest’s world with little background information or hand-holding. For the uninformed listener, Tempest expects a lot, making the cut somewhat off-putting. “The Truth”, which proceeds, is more accessible, thanks to the inclusion of a hook to cling onto. Even so, “Marshall Law” is more impressive lyrically.

“Lonely Daze” falls into a similar predicament as “Marshall Law”—it’s stacked with exceptional writing, but has lofty expectations. As an MC, Tempest’s flow succeeds, but still carries an inkling of doubt given the depth and ambition of the song. “Chicken” catches the ear from the jump, given its intensity and mysteriousness. Playing more to Tempest’s poetic storytelling persona, it fits more effectively than previous tracks. She still “raps”, but for whatever reason, “Chicken” feels more liberated.

“The Beigeness” doesn’t quite match the quality of “Chicken”, but atonement comes with “Theme from Becky”, where Tempest references the character she introduced on “Marshall Law”. The production is top notch, characterized by its percussive, heavy-hitting groove as well as the use of a mysterious pad (synth). Like “Chicken”, things seem to fit together nicely without a hitch. The script remains a difficult one to connect to, but admiration of Tempest’s gift doesn’t fade. An exceptionally sung hook atones for gaps as well. 

“Stink” is another interesting, slightly underdeveloped song. Again, the underdevelopment isn’t from a lyrical standpoint, but more from a presentation standpoint to potentially different audiences. Though a shade clunky, the growing intensity of Tempest’s rhymes is appreciable and highly respectable. “The Heist” comes closer to achieving a “breakthrough” moment, even if it doesn’t quite make it over the hump. Besides stellar production, the hook also shines: “You gotta take it as it comes / you gotta do what you gotta do…”

While it’s notable that “To the Victor the Spoils” cleverly centers around a classic quote (“to the victor goes the spoils”), “Circles” is the better-rounded song, filled with quick paced rhymes from Tempest. Bold and unapologetic, Tempest spits fire.  The sole rub:  “Circles” overindulges, taking too long to unwind. “A Hammer” receives agitated production to match its title, while “Happy End” gives the listener a considerable amount of story, arguably more than bargained for. “Hot Night Cold Spaceship” graces the set as a bonus cut. 

Ultimately, because Everybody Down is so unique and arguably uncharted territory, it is somewhat of an anomaly to evaluate. On the one hand, Tempest is a beast with the pen. The skill is definitely there. On the other hand, Everybody Down is an album that only appeals to a select group, and not the traditional rap audience. Confounding, yet worthy of recognition, Everybody Down is a sound release, with Tempest possessing potential to be truly great, once the logistics are shored up.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/183315-kate-tempest-everybody-down/