Slowthai ‘Ugly’ review: a powerful journey into the heart of greatness
“YEAH, IT FEELS so good when you feel alive, Yeah, it feels so good, yeah, it feels so good,” comes the titular salvo of slowthai on ‘Feel Good’, one of the first tracks to emerge from his anticipated third album.
As that chant suggests, here is a record that sees the artist otherwise known as Tyron Frampton doing his best to grab life by the horns. “Sittin’ in the dark, tryna find a light /Life gives you lemons, keep your head upright,” comes his subsequent message of defiance.
From the off, it’s a marked contrast to his second album — a consistently brooding and contemplative effort that examines how you navigate life after going through a very public cancellation (after the 2020 NME Awards).
Here, we’re presented with the figure that emerged on the other side. In fact, it’s all reflected in the titular acronym of the album too — U Gotta Love Yourself. Sometimes that’s easier in theory, but Frampton is consistently imparting the message that there’s power in self-belief and the ability to come out the other side.
All this is underpinned by a new sonic direction, too. Speedy Wunderground boss Dan Carey is on production duties to allow Frampton to head in a rockier direction than on his first two records. Frampton ends up in a post-punk territory where you’d expect to see other glittering Carey alumni such as brooding Dublin punks Fontaines DC (who feature on the title track). It all feels entirely natural, however, and never like a transparent attempt to mix things up for the sake of opportunistically grabbing a new audience.
As he recently explained to Rolling Stone UK, this is the place where he was always destined to end up. “There was more bands than there was rappers. I always wanted to be in a band, but no one would give me any opportunities. I liked rock more: guitars and that instrumentation was the thing that I was more drawn to over 808s,” he said of his early life in Northampton, where he grew up listening to the likes of Daniel Johnston and Radiohead.
Despite the new path, the intensity and powerful introspection of his earlier work remains. The opening track ‘Yum’ sees Frampton looking back on his experiences with addiction (excuse me while I self-destruct, ’cos I don’t give a fuck).
He then sings about the advice of a therapist who simply tells Frampton to breathe. Elsewhere, ‘Selfish’ sees him ruminating on the pressures of balancing recent fatherhood with continued musical success. Carey’s influence is particularly evident on ‘Falling’, which is among the most stripped-back and raw tracks he’s ever recorded, with post-rock ambience being contrasted against Frampton’s powerful screams of “drifting away”. But by the time things close with ‘25% Club’, it becomes clearer that slowthai’s painful past has been the making of him.
“You got some things on your mind I’d rather you say / ’Cos nothing will hurt me I swear, I wanna take all the pain away,’ he offers over swirling, Radiohead-esque instrumentation.
It’s a neat summary of the whole album — in reflecting on his own uncertain past, slowthai has delivered a record that allows those in a similar situation to dream of better days ahead. But first, as the man himself attests: UGLY.