From a retrospective standpoint, it hasn’t been all that easy for Cam Smith, aka, Hotel Books. Ever since releasing his initial demos and EP’s under his stage name he’s been the subject of broad criticism from musical commentators from various angles. Despite these seething attacks of disapproval, the judgement was relatively justified. Hotel Book’s original outings where fundamentally just the melodramatic adolescent musings of a heartbroken teenager set to loose and flimsy backing tracks that constantly sounded like they were on the very cusp of folding in on themselves.
Chock-a-block with poorly scripted metaphors and dodgy analogy’s, the act was quickly disregarded and labelled as an artist whose core demographic consisted of preteens who spent their evenings re-blogging over exposed photos of raindrops descending upon window panes on Tumblr. However, much to the sheer shock to anyone who would give them a second chance, the act released a (relatively) decent sophomore record in 2014 with Run Wild, Young Beauty. Vastly more focused and mature than it’s predecessors, it saw the act take on a dramatic metamorphosis whilst showing promise for future releases. A few years later and Smith is on the cusp of releasing his fourth full length, Equivalency. Surely a few years of introspection, contemplation and aging would ensure that such a release would promise a further matured outing? Well, as it turns out, not really.
There appears to be a misconception among certain scenes that spoken word vocals automatically ensure a level of intense passion regardless of the lyrics themselves. Of course, there’s vast amounts of groups who utilize this vocal technique to emphasise emotion beautifully. But in contrast, in the event of a debate to disapprove this claim; this album would be the perfect example. For the most part the dead pan and stoic delivery of lyrics here rapidly becomes tiresomely monotonous and does little to animate Smith’s rapid fire incoherent ramblings. If there was a level of contrast and juxtaposition within such vocal techniques it may prove to be more effective, but the unceasing onslaught ever erodes the substance carried within the lyrics.
Of course, the rudimental element of this act is the lyrical concepts found within the poetry, but much like previous releases from this act, the direct focus is on personal relationships. It certainly feels like a bit of a rehash of concepts of previous work; there’s only so many times you can explore the tribulations of your own personal relationships before it delves into a slight level of narcissism. As for the lyrics exploring this subject, well if you’re familiar with this act, you know what awaits you. Certainly, it’s a step up from the poorly constructed metaphors that were originally scribbled on the back of a maths class text book, but the ambiguously cliched prose remain.
Despite this criticism, there are some surprising moments of creativity and substance to be found within this release. Lead single ‘Celebration’ takes a welcome detour from the topic of personal issues to satirically explore the issue of external pressure when creating content and plays host to a more conventional structure. The contrast between Smith’s spoken word and the infectiously catchy chorus is a refreshing treat following a sting of mechanically wearisome tracks.
In relation, whilst the vast majority of the spoken word exclusive tracks offer very little to the average listener, the sheer level of aggression and frustration found within ‘Where I Am’ is absolutely inarguable. The slowly unravelling catharsis found within Smith’s wavering harsh vocals are accompanied with a bleakly simplistic riff that only adds volumes to the emotion; a direct divergence to the majority of delivery featured here.
All In all, there’s certainly a niche that will find this release to be a therapeutic experience, but a niche that will be blissfully unaware of the greener pastures of this respective genre. With its unapologetic and seemingly unconscious over indulgence on cliched spoken word formalities, Equivalency is an album that is on the cusp of being a parody of itself. There’s unmistakably the odd unexpected moment of focus and substance to be discovered within this release, but the act have some ways to go to truly represent the creativity and profound fervor associated with spoken word.