Album review: Slowthai – UGLY
Slowthai‘s latest album UGLY is his most gritty and vulnerable album yet. This album is completely different from his previously successful British hip-hop album, TYRON, released in 2021, which had features from A$AP Rocky, James Blake, and Skepta (to name a few).
UGLY finds itself being a genre-defining punk rock album, with influences of post-punk littered around a lot of the tracks. The album is a true testament to the sheer versatility of Slowthai as one of the few rappers that can successfully trade between genres.
The twelve track album opens with ‘Yum’, a song about positive self-affirmations in a mind cast with doubt. With a defining bassline, and a slow build up into classic Slowthai rage rap, the song acts as a striking opening to the album.
Mixed with fast-paced rap and glitch-like sound effects, you can feel Slowthai’s anger building as he tries to break free from creeping uncertainty. The constant speed of the song is motivating, with the track displaying the first samples of punk rock that we’re about to taste on this incredible album.
The second song is ‘Selfish’: one of three singles that were released in the run up to the album. A lightly struck guitar starts the track, followed by heavy bass. The track talks of the battles of selfishness in life, and seeks to stress the importance of putting yourself first in situations. Adding to the impressive layers of the song, Bridge‘s vocals give the track an ecstasy-like edge to it as we enter the full frenzy of punk rock.
‘Sooner’ and ‘Feel Good’ follow: two album highlights. ‘Sooner’, a post-punk upbeat song, works incredibly well with the vocals of Ethan P. Flynn, providing a cheery and buoyant chorus to partner Slowthai’s story of the journey of not caring. The overarching meaning of the song is that Slowthai wishes he did things sooner, as he tells his listeners to try the things you want to try, or, later, you’ll wish you had done them.
‘Feel Good’, arguably the most captivating and catchy song on UGLY, is about finding your own mantra. It was written when Slowthai was not feeling in a good place, and he uses the song as a way to take himself back to a place where he is ‘Feel[ing] good’. A well paired guitar and bass, with an overlay of a synthesiser gives the track a synth-rock edge. Coupled with the hidden addition of Shygirl, a frequent collaborator with Slowthai, ‘Feel Good’ feels like it will become a mantra for many.
A third of the way into the album, and the tone of UGLY changes. The first four songs feel more intense, and punk rock, in line with the genre marketed for UGLY. However, when we reach ‘Never Again’, it’s clear that this is a starkly different type of song.
A welcome change of pace, ‘Never Again’ has a slow start; employs delicate piano instrumentals, a light-hearted drum kit with prominent hi-hats, and a slow and gentle guitar. It’s a highly emotional track that documents Slowthai’s raw and sensitive emotions with an unnamed ex-girlfriend. A passionately vulnerable song.
Picking up the pace from ‘Never Again’, ‘F*** it Puppet’ follows with more salient hi-hats, and a return to an angry Slowthai. As one of the shorter tracks, it feels more like an interlude in the album. However, that’s not to take anything away from the importance of the song – as a track that gives us a deep insight into Slowthai’s conflicting emotions.
‘HAPPY’ and ‘UGLY’ are two songs that go hand in hand, and can be considered two anthems of the album. A pair of songs about completely juxtaposing feelings. ‘HAPPY’, a whirl of drum kits and electric guitars, is another snappy song that’s about your own happiness and making sure that you’re not doing anything to jeopardise it.
Whilst ‘UGLY’, with a slower whirl of drum kits and electric guitars, is a reflection on all the bad in the world. But, although written at the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, the song is surprisingly calm in the face of adversity.
Nearing the final four songs in the album, ‘Falling’ is a song as close to the concept as it sounds. A track that creates a crashing and colliding effect with the drums and heavy cymbals, ‘Falling’ literally sounds like you’re falling and or drifting through space. The song’s effect relates to the bittersweet meaning of falling out of life and sadly out of love.
Up next is ‘Wotz Funny’, a highly bassy song that captures the album’s punk rock style. A lovely mix of spoken word, rapping, and shouting by Slowthai, and with looming bass chords, the song is about being different. Slowthai is questioning “What’s funny?” in the face of ignorance.
The penultimate song, ‘Tourniquet’, is distinct song about sacrifice, starting off with delicate piano keys. In true Slowthai fashion, it’s another mix of spoken word, soft singing, rapping and pure rage. A tourniquet is a device used to stop life-threatening external bleeding; the track uses the metaphor to talk about sacrificing parts of yourself for the greater good, in addition to the pain and anguish that comes with sacrifice.
The album ends with ‘25% Club’, a ballad-like song with gently strung guitar chords. The song talks about the disillusion of being complete. A tender-sounding Slowthai soothingly singing about the missing 25% that everybody is after in order to achieve fulfilment. However, this 25% is an illusion itself, an unachievable quarter that everybody will always be after. But it is perhaps not something that everybody needs, as Slowthai alludes to the fact that fulfilment comes from within.
Overall, UGLY is an album about growth. Whether that’s self-growth, emotional growth or mental growth, Slowthai takes us on an unbelievably vulnerable journey with each of his twelve tracks. UGLY is an astonishingly resonant album to listen to as a young person, as you feel someone could take anecdotes from Slowthai’s songs and apply them to real life situations.
His excellently executed use of both punk rock and post-punk, in a genre hopping album, is exactly why Slowthai is one of the most exciting artists of our generation. Completing a hat trick of successfully meaningful and diverse albums, UGLY is as refreshingly different, yet as remarkable, as the previous two.
Listen to UGLY here: