Few artists are as creative as Ghostpoet right now. With his third album in five years the Coventry vocalist is really challenging himself, opening his heart to the effects of a recent break up and his mind to new musical directions.
Thankfully, Ghostpoet – real name Obaro Ejimiwe – is not self-indulgent to the point of wrapping a whole album around his own experiences at the expense of any benefit to the outside world. Instead he projects outwards with graphic descriptions of the end of a relationship and what that means to all parties. To illustrate his points he recruits a number of guest artists, a first in his work, while bringing in live instrumentation for the first time. These are bold decisions that pay off handsomely, showing Ejimiwe off as a versatile and deeply thoughtful artist. More acts could benefit from refusing to rest on their laurels in this way.
Despite its heavy subject matter, Shedding Skin tries to stay strong in the face of strife. “Love will remain throughout the pain and the strain”, Ghostpoet tries to convince himself on Be Right Back, Moving House – a track made with Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith – but his flat tone of voice speaks of the intense internal struggle. The upbeat number Off Peak Dreams, showcasing the live sound, introduces the album with a sense of resolve, a mood soon reined in by the introspective X Marks The Spot.
While picking over the scars in the title track, a duet with Melanie De Biasio, each party muses on their relationship. “You think you know me, you never know me” is the soft-toned sparring, done with a hint of menace. Yet in Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me, a duet with Lucy Rose, there is hope through more upbeat vocal trade-offs and an urgent guitar line. The guitar is not always so positive, mind, for in Better Not Butter it is wracked with pain.
Ejimiwe is less a rapper, more a speech artist on this album, a kind of English counterpart to Common’s earlier work. Yet his insights are so personal, his reflection in the psychological mirror often seen at such uncomfortably close quarters, that the listener has to back off a little on occasion.
When all is said and done, though, try not to shed a tear to the closing number Nothing In The Way, a string-fuelled paean of resilience and deep-seated optimism. This is the song that remains in the memory, and – to be frank – stops you worrying about Ghostpoet’s state of wellbeing. He is a fascinating musical force, one we should treasure and encourage. Album number four already looks like being a record not to miss, and given his prodigious work rate we probably won’t have to wait too long for it.