Ugly Duckling

Taste the Secret

What do you get when you combine a tablespoon of boom-bap with a sprinkle of nerd rap and stir it all together with a big glob of broad social satire? One of the worst CDs of the year, unfortunately. For its sophomore effort, Taste the Secret, Los Angeles hip hop duo Ugly Duckling concocted a concept album that would seem to fit San Francisco's overly politicized landscape: A fast-food chain that serves meatshakes, meat fries, and meat salads goes to war with a petiole-soaked vegan restaurant. While it sounds like an amusing enough concept, Taste the Secretis every bit as generic as the fast-food nation UD is trying to lampoon, and is bereft of the guilty pleasures that pop culture grants its participants. Once you strip away the album's metaphorical conceits and meta-commentary, you're still left with bland MCs, weak production, and unfocused criticism.

To be fair, some of the samples that Ugly Duckling utilizes for the album are effective: The surf rock guitars in "Dumb It Down" lend the track needed momentum; the delicate keystrokes on "Abigail Silk" add a nice lilting touch, particularly when the beat drops during the third verse. But for the most part, the production oscillates among satiric commercial jingles, senseless recycling of old-school themes, and the sort of ostensibly playful and eclectic sound that resembles a lobotomized Prince Paul.

Still, the musical missteps are minor in comparison to the pitfalls encountered by Ugly Duckling's MCs. The lyrics are intended to be an oh-so-clever indictment of a hypercommercialized society in which pop culture is dumbed down ("Dumb It Down"), the resistance is stupidly radicalized ("La Revolucion"), and all art is commercial art (the mock jingles sprinkled throughout the album). And while this sounds great on paper -- in a silly and self-reflexive way -- Ugly Duckling addresses the ideas in such an insipid manner that it's hard to care. Stilted flows, flat deliveries, and banal lyrics are the order of the day. By the time the album culminates in a war between vegans and carnivores, you've lost interest in who will win because you already know who the ultimate loser is: the listener.

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