On his last album (2021’s TYRON), Slowthai was in a muddle. He’d recently made a fool of himself at the NME Awards (acting inappropriately towards comedian Katherine Ryan on stage) and was struggling to keep a sense of self in the face of a stratospheric rise, and the album reflected this mess of feelings and emotions.

It was hard to get your head around TYRON, which felt like it was made by someone who didn’t know where they were or where they were headed. Two years later and UGLY (an acronym for “U gotta love yourself”) couldn’t be more different: it’s a powerful, cohesive record of painful honesty and cheeky-chappy charm, the sound of a man who is on a path.

Although he’s always been known as a rapper, Slowthai recently told Rolling Stone that he’d always wanted to be in a rock band but felt ostracised by that community as a young man. Here he reclaims the territory, working with super-producer Dan Carey, who’s behind a glut of cool, successful bands – Fontaines DC, Wet Leg, Squid, Black Midi. Extremely un-rap, you might say. It’s a masterstroke as far as Slowthai is concerned, channelling his unruly emotions and disdain for things like formal therapy into punk howls and thoughtful, philosophical verses underpinned by roiling guitars.

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On “Yum”, you can hear the sound of a disintegrating psyche as he rails against being told to breathe in the face of a shopping list of addictive vices – alcohol, sex, all the drugs – the music devolving into shards at the end.

“Never Again” is like a Northampton version of Eminem’s “Stan”, a narrative (with haunting vocals from Ethan P Flynn) about a difficult ex killed by her violent new partner. It ricochets from annoyance to horror and sorrow and manages to pull it off.

Elsewhere Slowthai is determined to trick himself into feeling better: “Feel Good” is a perky pop tune with a mantra to repeat to your sobbing face in the mirror – “I feel so good, I feel so good” – sung in a voice that sounds like it’s had a hit of helium. The title song dips into shoegaze, discordant washes provided by Fontaines DC as Slowthai raps about the ways the world grinds us down: “I’m sick of toying with a broken idea/ I’m sick of thinking there’s a reason I’m here/ We’re just puppets in a simulation”. It’s punctuated by the humour that he hasn’t lost as he navigates a strange new life: “Loving is brittle plastic/ But soft in the middle/ The same as skittles,” he observes. So true.

I’m struggling to think of another contemporary artist who pulls off this mix of the sublime and the ridiculous to such great effect. UGLY makes you feel like someone out there knows the feelings you keep hidden inside, like maybe there’s an answer beyond therapy and meds. Slowthai has given himself permission to feel everything rawly all at once: and that’s a powerful thing.

Songs to stream: “Falling”, “Never Again”, “Feel Good

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