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Album review: slowthai ‘Tyron’

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Tyron

slowthai
Tyron
[Method Records]

“Double NN ’til the day I die”

When we last sat down to review his debut in 2019, the world seemed pretty run of the mill, even if Tyron Frampton was nothing of the sort. He had played some incredible live shows in the previous months in Northampton, Birmingham, and Milton Keynes that New Boots had witnessed, and the sheer momentum was plain to see. It felt like the man could do no wrong, despite his edgy/”controversial” persona.

But 2020 proved to be a major hurdle. Firstly his unfortunate set to at the NME awards proved he was fallible after all, then a global pandemic hit the music industry hard. Festivals gone, all live/promo commitments severely curtailed. Retreating to the studio in a fog of anger and confusion, he’s quickly turned around another opus. His optimism in his social media and press engagements is oddly out of synch with much of Tyron, the ‘difficult’ second album for different reasons.

It’s importantly another work that he can stand tall next to, though it’s not without it’s problems. He’s openly talked of his Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, and has taken this to an extreme by splitting this album into two parts: a ‘loud/party’ side and a ‘quiet/reflective’ side. The album drops any trace of the politics from Nothing Great About Britain in favour of elucidating on the personal battles we all wage.

“How you gonna cancel me?/Plenty awards on the mantlepiece/Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury

The album is part defense of his existence – and those navel-gazing moments are inescapable – plus plenty of bravado mixed into the batter, which thankfully keeps the whole thing from collapsing into therapy hell. Opener ’45 Smoke’ sees him firing back at his critics with some of the harsh realities of his old life, whilst slamming harsh grime sounds against industrial/disorted rhythms to create a purposely confusing scene. For those who think he “Satan’s son” it’s a statement of intent; take no prisoners. ‘Cancelled’ makes his defense more explicit, warning those of wishing him ill that they won’t succeed. That he’s once again got Skepta by his side speaks volumes. This is a crew not to mess with. When ‘Mazza’ quickly rolls in it’s a sonic relief, as we return back to a straighter rap-pop mould, as he trades boastful tales with US superstar A$AP Rocky. This is the most commercial song on the album by some distance, and probably the best too; the delivery of both brimming with verve.

This half continues in the fighting, abrasive mould. Recalling conflict, anger, resentment…it’s never a dull listen. A track called ‘Vex’ is a regurgitation of some previous battles, ‘Wot’ a short interlude in a similar vein. ‘Dead’ has a nursery rhyme-style refrain that centres around another “I stand tall” sentiment; the telling line being “My legend will live eternity”. Part one signs off with that ‘Mazza’ organ again – ‘Play With Fire’ ramming home a ‘don’t mess’ vibe, but now with more retrospective wisdom. Questioning why he’s always questioning things, and the confusion it percolates.

“If hell is meant for sinning heaven’s never been for me”

Part two sees a conscious move to a more seductive, R&B sound. Melody is more present, especially from the guest vocalists. The internal doubts are still there though, loud and clear. The slow jam ‘I tried’ is achingly beautiful, even if the lyrics don’t deal with the lovely dovey stuff. It should be the next single: it will show people there’s so much more to him that Boris-baiting. ‘Focus’ says turn off the white noise of modern life and take care of yourself. ‘Terms’ features Dominic Fike and Denzel Curry; the three reflecting on the horrors of fame. On the acoustic ‘Push’ he seemingky rejects the bad boy life for something emotionally grander. You should know ‘NHS’ and ‘Feel Away’ by now, the 2020 singles that showed Tyron wasn’t going to be the album you may have expected. The album closes with the woozy ‘ADHD’, which seems to summarise all the overthinking he’s been cursed with all his life.

Tyron is the melancholic album we didn’t see coming, the come-down from the party he gatecrashed so spectacularly in 2018/19. Take note: there’s no single here to elevate him into the mainstream. The press love him – he’s on the Jimmy Fallon Show, ferchristsake – but there’s nothing immediate in any of the tracks that will give him another crossover smash like ‘Doorman’ or ‘Deal Wiv It’. It’s not the end of the world though kid; Tyron works as a whole piece rather than any mix of killer and filler.

“Try breathing/You might find freedom

As self-portraits go it’s probably as schizophrenic as the man himself. But in every line it screams: ’embrace the chaos inside you’. Whilst all our mental health suffers in this pandemic he seems to reflect so much of us Britons; the ugly truth alongside the savage beauty. This album isn’t necessarily the barnstormer you may have expected; that will have to wait until number three. But with another masterwork, with its own unique mould, under his belt slowthai is beyond writing off. Truly he is now The Prince.

Phil Moore

Tyron is released this Friday [Feb 12] digitally, and available in a range of physical formats here.

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