Kae Tempest – ‘The Line Is A Curve’ review: poet surpasses their own sky-high standards

The songwriter and poet's fourth record is a direct and dazzling step forward, and provides a shining example of the power in emotional exploration

At this point, the overwhelmingly acclaimed, Ivor Novello-nominated Kae Tempest has little to prove as a lyricist. What’s most notable about their fourth record ‘The Line Is A Curve’, then, is that it sees those standards surpassed – and all without straying from the direct power of a perfectly honed lyric. Although frequently dazzling, the record deals in simple terms, the songwriter-poet’s slick and direct vocal always front-and-centre over spacious and emotive production from frequent collaborator Dan Carey.

Tempest’s unique brand of UK rap is strongest when their focus is set on the small things, from which they’re able to extract a rich emotional palette. On ‘Nothing To Prove’, they employ a buzzing staccato as they express the overwhelming fragmentation of modern existence through small images. “You can keep the mood board / Look-book / Cakewalk / Hate speech / Brass neck / Face lift / Hard-right / Far-left,” they spit.

Elsewhere, as on the delicately melancholy ‘No Prizes’, they extract intense character study from everyday conversation. The reflective ‘Smoking’ is just a voice note that Tempest sent to Carey, who added a simple beat (the distracting hubbub remains in the background). Carey’s role is significant: the beats he and Tempest have crafted are perfect, as cold or as warm as they need to be, and organic and soulful. When Tempest explores nihilistic aggression on ‘Move’, their words are served a punchy and robotic beat. On ‘Don’t You Ever’, a song about the dizzying emotional ebbs and flows of a romantic relationship, the production features woozy horns set just a perfect fragment off-kilter.

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Tempest has spoken much about how this record, their first since coming out as non-binary, was in many ways an exercise in letting go of anxiety and self-doubt, and that in making it they opened themselves up to more collaboration. As well as their perfect lockstep with Carey, this record is notable for its featured artists – see the sublimely narcotic spoken-word duet with Fontaines DC’s Grian Chatten on ‘I Saw Light’ and a soulful chorus from Lianne La Havas on ‘No Prizes’.

The voice that shines through clearer than ever, however, is Tempest’s own. The process of letting go has resulted in a record on which an acclaimed voice can explore human emotion with more breadth and depth than ever before.

Release Date: April 8

Record Label: Fiction

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