As a rapper, Slowthai has loads of technical potential and charisma however the identical can’t be stated for his singing. One among his signature strikes is to alter the pitch of his voice mid-line, a trick that makes for an unmistakable rap supply however feels like poor pitch coming from a singer. The result’s that lots of the songs on Ugly really feel nearly like karaoke performances. “Falling” goals for Pixies however is sorely lacking Black Francis’ impassioned mania (the title observe, which options Irish post-punks Fontaines D.C., pulls off this sound extra efficiently). “Tourniquet” solutions a query nobody requested: What would a Radiohead ballad sound like with hardcore vocals? “Never Again” weaves a tale about a chance encounter with an ex that ends in tragedy—it’s clearly meant to be the record’s poignant centerpiece. But the song, which features choruses sung by Ethan P. Flynn and verses rapped by Slowthai, feels disjointed and awkward, like an imaginary, shelved collaboration between David Bowie and Mike Skinner.
Ugly’s worst song isn’t even a rock song. On “Fuck It Puppet,” Slowthai contorts his voice into numerous shapes whereas rapping over a dry, boom-bap beat. However the music’s conceit—Slowthai participating in a shouting match with the suicidal voice in his head—brings to thoughts his least flattering comparability: Eminem. Within the years following Slowthai’s debut, SoundCloud rap mutated into “rage rap,” a subgenre that dials up the (nearly completely) male aggression in a fashion that’s clearly indebted to Slim Shady. However that sound is now already previous its sell-by date and its principal architects are shifting on. It might be good timing for an artist as considerate as Slowthai to interrogate or not less than complicate rap’s infatuation with male anger. As a substitute, on songs like “Fuck It Puppet,” he simply lets the trend circulate.
This lack of imaginative and prescient is what makes Ugly so disappointing. Slowthai’s work as a rapper is way extra dynamic and very important; there’s no actual sense for why these songs wanted to be rock songs. On Nothing Nice About Britain, Slowthai’s anger—towards establishments, injustices, and his personal tough upbringing—felt righteous and representational. Right here it feels obscure and nihilistic (“I’m sick of thinking there’s a reason I’m here/We’re just puppets in a simulation,” he muses on “Ugly”), far much less nuanced than the reflective bars on 2021’s TYRON. It’s attainable to make heavy music that directs its anger towards worthy targets, tackles introspection with maturity, or doesn’t depend on rage for catharsis in any respect. Ugly feels like one thing far much less fascinating: the type of generically angsty guitar music that solely a ’90s main label government might love.
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