slowthai Delivers a Truly ‘UGLY’ Look at Himself (Review)

Tom Atkinson

By Tom Atkinson

Tom Atkinson

8 Mar 2023

Northampton’s own slowthai is one of the most unique and interesting artists to come out in the last decade. His political takes on hip-hop, grime, and post-punk on ‘Nothing Great About Britain‘ was a great debut and received plenty of acclaim and attention. His follow-up ‘TYRON‘ was a tale of two halves showing his aggressive/energetic and emotional sides on its two discs.

UGLY‘ feels like a culmination of the two, but moves away from his more rap-orientated side, in favour of post-punk, indie-rock, and even alternative dance music. slowthai clearly has had plenty of creative freedom here, allowing him to make the record he wanted. It has resulted in a truly outstanding LP, proving third time is a charm.

UGLY‘ which stands for U Gotta Love Yourself is very much a reflection on his mental state, addiction, and trying to find his true self. From ‘Yum‘ to ‘25% Club‘ we get this story through his words and the production of mainly Dan Carey and Kwes Darko. They know just the right sounds to fit this story, whether the pounding techno-inspired sounds of ‘Yum‘ or The Smiths’ inspired ‘Sooner.’ ‘Wotz Funny‘ provides some of that very cheeky humour we expect, as he recollects his difficult upbringing. Having proved himself on previous efforts like ‘Doorman‘ and the singles to this project, slowthai has truly delved into his musical pallet here. This is an energetic and loud album, that matches the mood perfectly.

The features on this album are also well executed. Whether the melancholic-dreary tones of Ethan P. Flynn on ‘Never Again,’ or Shygirl’s backing vocals on ‘Feel Good’s‘ main verse. Here, they do their job and provide that extra cherry on top to each track. Not only do they fit the project, but give us some great new artists to listen to.

The singles ‘Selfish‘ and ‘Feel Good,’ provided two different flavours of bangers. The former is very much a reflection on his status, and how it still leads to depression and uncertainty. It’s complimented nicely by the wailing guitar throughout. ‘Feel Good‘ meanwhile is calmer, with its indie-rock influence. It was written in response to slowthai feeling down at the time. With its catchy chorus and anthemic nature, it went off on his tour in March last year and does so today.

This is an album full of highlights, but the tracks that stand out are ‘Never Again‘ and ‘Falling.’ ‘Never Again‘ has a very melancholic beat, that makes you recall something sad in your past. It reflects on Tyron having made it and returning home to find a former lover. It’s a very personal and bleak tale, that clutches at the heartstrings. Meanwhile, ‘Falling‘ is an expressive and erratic performance over a distorted post-punk sound. The track is very simple and straight to the point but does everything to such a high level.

The only song I have slight issues with is the title track. It has an average punky sound and chorus, that just doesn’t do it for me. The themes of an ugly world certainly resonate in the climate of 2023, but the performance is somewhat lacking. It’s by no means a bad track but stands out amongst the quality on display.

UGLY‘ is slowthai’s best work to date and shows the man at his most creative and personal so far. This album is full of fantastic music and painful storytelling and will go down as one of 2023’s best. It’s a record that is what the title suggests but in a good way. Whether he will continue down this musical trajectory we will see. But for now, this third LP is his best and a true masterpiece in sound and scope.

Star Rating: 4.5/5

slowthai is on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

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