Irony, pain, vulnerability, and insanity are apparent in the title before the listener hears the album. This is not music you pipe into the background at a party to boost the ambiance. This is real music – the cries of a tortured soul who lacks the ability to express himself any other way. It becomes abundantly clear over the course of the album that Slug (the only MC in Atmosphere, which used to be a group) is “Ugly” and the enigmatic Lucy is “God.” Slug has so little self-esteem that it seeps in through his interludes; the album starts out with an unbelievably chilling resonance of little kids chanting, “you’re so ugly, you’re so ugly,” and most of the others are women screaming at him or about him. Lucy’s (omni)presence throughout reflects Slug’s ravaging, conflicted feelings about her, and his pain (which seems to come more from loving her than hating her) follows.
The most breathtaking aspect of Atmosphere’s music is how Slug’s lyrics are emotionally honest and factually vague. What he doesn’t say is much more important than what he does say. The strength of his subtext shows Slug’s excellent artistic sensibilities. Refrains like “everyone in his life / would mistake it as love” (in the middle of the gut-wrenching “Fuck You Lucy”) are spoken with such visceral power that the listener understands the feelings but not the situation, evoking strong curiosity. This mystery keeps the album interesting to the enraptured listener. On “Hair”, what seems like an honest narrative of an encounter with a groupie ends up with both Slug and his girlfriend dying in traffic. He deftly pulls the same trick he did on Lucy Ford’s “Nothing But Sunshine”, a heartbreaking account of his parents’ deaths which turned out to be a complete lie. Slug freely mocks his listeners as well as himself and everything around him, which is as captivating as it is frustrating.
One of the pleasures of following an artist’s albums is seeing his style change, hopefully for the better. Sluggo scraps his emotional style twice on the album for some good old Hip-Hop shit talking about the usual subjects: blowjobs, wack MC’s, drugs, and violence. On “Flesh” Slug is joined by I Self Divine over some harsh yet upbeat surf drums for some vicious back-and-forth rhymes. It’s a great tension-breaker amidst the sometimes-overwhelming fog of self-doubt and emotion.
As a disclaimer, fans of Atmosphere and the rest of the Rhyme Sayers will get pretty much what they came for, but this album is much more drenched with emotion than most heads are used to. Atmosphere’s unique formula is carried out well, but the success of the various attitudes that Slug exudes depends entirely on how much intensity that he puts into them. Slug’s choruses are undesirable, and a few are even harder to swallow; he rhymes words with themselves and other faux-pas. God Loves Ugly loses steam towards the end due to the simple fact that Slug really doesn’t pull off a casual song on the same level of quality as his more concentrated material. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it adds an uneven quality to an album that comes out as less than the sum of its parts.
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