Ugly Duckling (Andy Cooper)
Ugly Duckling has "Audacity". Since U.D. formed in 1993, Andy, Dizzy and Young Einstein have had the nerve to believe that they should make it in the music business. Fiercely independent and musically idealistic, the trio from Long Beach, California has managed to successfully release four well-received albums which have helped to take them to almost 30 countries over the past 10 or so years. Despite the band's low media profile and often-changing label situations, they have built a unique and wide reputation for delivering soulful and humorous hip-hop and a white-hot live show. To look at them, one might now guess that this band has an accomplished resume of classic singles, consistent sales, international t.v. and festival appearances and a busy travel schedule with the worn-out passport stamps to prove it but, somehow, they've made it happen.
"Audacity" is also the title of their latest L.P. and, as usual, the guys are excited about the new stuff. Andy explains, "We are constantly trying to develop the Ugly Duckling sound without losing sight of our foundation. This time around, we wanted to add melody to the vocals and more complex arranging and production. Plus, these songs are kind of personal." The process of creating the album took almost a year. "Our creative method is difficult and time-consuming", says Young Einstein who heads up the production along with Andy, "but in the end, it's worth it." Dizzy, who loves to sequester himself off at home and write admits, "The lyrics for this album were challenging. I had to dig deep".
After all of this hard work, U.D. offers 12 tracks that push the boundaries of Hip-Hop style attempting to break away from rap cliches and generally accepted notions about the culture. The band has never fit into any predictable mold but this album stands out as their most daring and emotionally vulnerable while still, somehow, retaining the gritty funkiness first heard on their debut "Fresh Mode" in 1997. They've never relied on featured artists or outside production so the band has had to force themselves to evolve and experiment by exploring different musical styles and trying new things. On "Audacity", you'll hear U.D. doing things you've never heard them do before.
The result are tracks like the album's opening explosion "I Won't Let it Die" which showcases a powerfully melodic chord progression, one of Einstein's typically slamming drum-breaks and clever, insightful lyrics. It's difficult to say what kind of music it is but it just sounds RIGHT. On "The Lonely Ones", the band explores isolation over a haunting groove that sounds straight out of an eastern-European abbey. "Right Now" touches on the topic of indecision while "I Want to Believe" takes on faith. With "Falling Again", Andy and Dizzy trade melancholy lines about failure until smoothly merging into a chorus that's reminiscent of classic Pharcyde material.
If this all sounds a little heavy, there is plenty of the U.D. humor that fans have come to expect on songs like the quirky, roller-coaster ride of a tune called "It's Gone", the swingy horn licks of the title track, the early 90's sound of "Oh Yeah" and the jungle funk of "The Takedown". Plus, as usual, Einstein takes to the turntables for the group's most epic D.J. presentation to date "Einstein Do It (Night on Scratch Mountain)". For this number, Einstein uses over one-hundred different cuts in the whirlwind of vinyl manipulation and fader flux. He comments, "That's got to be some kind of world record right? My hands are still sore".
Ugly Duckling believes listeners will enjoy their latest offering because, as Andy puts it, "In the end, good music will find a place. We may never have a huge video budget or a massive marketing campaign but as long as we deliver the songs, we'll stick around". Dizzy adds, "Becoming celebrities is not our priority. All we ever really tried to do was make great albums and rock shows." In the very competitive and cut-throat world of entertainment, Ugly Duckling has had the "Audacity" to take chances, the "Audacity" to be themselves and, most audaciously, the "Audacity" to endure and listening to their latest L.P., you will understand why. No management companies, no major labels, no media powers and no marketing budgets... only music.