The opening track to Slowthai’s third album ‘UGLY’ is one of the most visceral introductions you’ll hear this year. Amidst various explicit sex acts (including a golden shower) and bolshy electronic beats, the Northampton artist lists everything that’s pumping through his system: “More coke / More weed / More E’s / More trips”. A quickening beat and deep breaths might suggest a hell of a party, but by the song’s end, he’s deep in the hole: “One drinks never enough / Excuse me while I self-destruct”.
‘UGLY’, then, is a warts-and-all reckoning, his most exhilarating project to date from front to back. Following the public fall-out from the NME Awards in 2020, and right-wing criticism of his exuberant stage presence and stunts (which included him holding an effigy of Boris Johnson’s severed head at the Mercury Prize in 2019), Tyron Frampton’s “cartoonish” public persona came at the detriment of his brutal honesty and self-expression: “You’re stereotyped as the nutter who gets in his boxers”, he says in accompanying notes to the record, saying that his intentions have been misinterpreted.
2021’s ‘TYRON’ was similarly soul-baring, a double album split between pulsating hip-hop and subdued ballads. Frampton tackled his issues head-on, namely on ‘CANCELLED’, where he and Skepta asked: “How you gonna cancel me? / Twenty awards on the mantelpiece / Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury”. But there’s always more to the story, and on ‘UGLY’ it feels like you get every gory detail. Lockdowns, therapy and elements of sobriety have allowed Frampton to reflect on every facet of his personality with maturity, keen to show that there’s more to him than what the cynics see.
And no wonder he’s gone back to basics to do that. Inspired by his love of rock bands as a teen, he’s formed something of his own crew to realise a long-held desire for camaraderie: Kwes Darko, Dan Carey, Jockstrap’s Taylor Skye, Shygirl, Fontaines D.C. and more all appear on the album. It proves a return to the Slowthai many fell in love with on his early collaborations with Mura Masa on ‘Doorman’ and ‘Deal Wiv It’; bolshy, intense, loveable and messy.
Lead single ‘Selfish’ best demonstrates Frampton’s new mindset and focus, as he speaks of his recent fatherhood (“I’m thankful for the life that I lead / I kiss my son before I put him to sleep”) and reminding us that success isn’t all it cracks up to be (“I still see it in my friends, the jealousy / They wanna be me / The grass ain’t always green on the other side”). He apes Jamie T on ‘Sooner’, where he reminisces about “riding shotgun in a 306” without a “pot to piss in” – but he’s as content and carefree as he’ll ever be, before the prying eyes try and pin him down.
If there was danger of straying into cheeky-chappy indie clichés, title track ‘UGLY’ tempers that. Recorded with Fontaines D.C., the doomy, claustrophobic rock elevates an inspired vocal performance from Frampton – his best ever. “The world is ugly”, he barks throughout, but amidst the chaos, the startling clarity in the track’s final verse leaves a lasting impression:“The moment the world stands still / You are not in control”. Slowthai has always had an epic song like this in him, but it’s only at this present moment that he can realise it.
The accompanying music video for ‘Feel Good’, a two-minute bouncer featuring Shygirl on backing vocals, is a perfect distillation of the album’s magnificently executed mission. In the clip, they capture fans’ reactions to the new song, unaware that the man himself is creeping into frame, and into their messy bedrooms, studios and lives. In lesser hands, it’s baiting for viral reactions, but here, the fan’s visceral responses – pure, unscripted, joyous – capture ‘UGLY’s juvenile spirit. Forget the noise, and the cameras, just feel and embrace it; life is futile without that commitment to every emotion, as Slowthai can attest to.
- Release date: March 3, 2023
- Record label: Method