REVIEW: Ghostpoet – I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep

InI’ll start with one piece of advice: give this album time. I’ve been spending time with the whole of Ghostpoet’s discography over the last week or so due to a #LockdownChallenge I set myself on Twitter, and one thing I have learnt is that his albums, if you give them the time they deserve rather than a quick cursory listen, will sneak up on you until the point that you become addicted. I’ve been trying to figure out why they take their time to grow rather than being immediate hits. Maybe it’s because, with such a slick and cool vocal delivery, it can be easy to miss the messages and meanings that are at the heart of Ghostpoet’s music. I Grow Tired has more to say than any of his previous works, but it might not be obvious immediately.

The first hurdle I had to get over was that, on the first few listens, this album does have a lot in common with Dark Days And Canapes, the only Ghostpoet record I knew previously. Sonically, that is. It has the same dense instrumentation, the dark and almost dystopian soundscapes. It melds together elements of trip-hop, hip-hop, and alt-rock in the same way that the last record does. I have since, through my #LockdownChallenge, learnt that his sound has varied a great deal over his career. But my initial feeling about the latest album was that I wasn’t sure I needed it when I already had Dark Days And Canapes.

 

But remember what I said at the start: give this album time. It was on one of my many early morning lockdown walks when this album really clicked for me. Listening to ‘Black Dog Got Silver Eyes’ I was suddenly struck by the lines ‘You’re giddy in hate/But when is it enough?/It’s more than enough/And now it feels enough’. They sent a little chill up my spine. I think it was the fact that I was listening closely, the music directly in my ears rather than playing on the speakers while I worked, that made me take in what he was saying here rather than just enjoy the sounds while ignoring the meaning. And suddenly all of the album’s intentions opened up. ‘Rats In A Sack’ is the next song on the list, and is one that had already stood out to me, but now I was paying real attention to it’s ‘out means out’ chorus and it’s anger at the many wrongs in British society in recent years. Hiding behind that cool exterior is a real, powerful protest song.

With my attention now firmly grasped by this album, suddenly Covid-19 was no longer the only all-consuming thing to focus on. Following George Floyd’s murder in the US the #BlackLivesMatter protests broke out. I have already spoken about how consumed I have been by this in a previous article, but what I didn’t mention was how Ghostpoet’s music, and particularly this album, have become my soundtrack to recent events. ‘Nowhere to Hide Now’ speaks specifically of ‘bombs…goin’ on/Bodies in the streets, panic in the pipes/Screaming fills the air, it’s going down tonight’. The title song, and for me the best song on the album, talks of its writer’s anger at waiting ‘until life becomes fair’ and being exhausted by the weight of the world but being too scared to sleep because ‘who knows what will await if I fall too deep.’ It talks of ‘a mission’ and ‘taking a stand.’

 

And then, most prescient of all, is ‘Social Lacerations’, the album’s closing song. Opening with the lines ‘Unbelievable/We’re not critical/Precious lives we lead/Don’t mean shit to them’ – almost the exact message of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Although, of course, prescient is not the right word. Because what Ghostpoet is writing and singing about here is nothing new, just because it has suddenly exploded onto our screens on a daily basis. These are the injustices that people have been living with forever, and on I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep Ghostpoet brings these struggles into vivid, chilling focus.

So I urge you on one final occasion: give this album time. The slick delivery belies one of the most important releases of 2020 if you don’t do the work to look past it. Having spent so much time with Ghostpoet’s music over the last month, I can confidently say that he is a hugely underappreciated artist. Maybe, hopefully, this will be the album that brings him to an even bigger audience. It deserves to. It is the best work of his career so far.

Words by Fran Slater

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