In this day and age, local bands are a dime a dozen, and far too many come and go in the blink of an eye. It’s a rarity to even release one album, let alone two, which is precisely why funk-rock band Ugly In The Morning’s third release is absolutely significant in the history of Singapore music.
3 Or More If You Can Afford It was officially launched last Saturday at the Esplanade Annexe Studio, not with a whimper but with a bang, and a full concert of the album’s 10 tracks. Deriving the album’s title from the government’s 1980s pro-natalist population policy isn’t just a cheeky move; it’s a clear message to keep doing what they’re doing, driven by passion and a ton of hard work.
Emceed by Adrian Pang, with a merchandise booth and bar operated by staff and friends from W!ld Rice and Dream Academy, concert producer and lead vocalist Pam Oei’s influence on the concert was evident from start to end, uniting people from both the local music and theatre scenes in a single production. It takes a village, and the concert turnout was perhaps one of the most interesting ones we’ve seen in a while; besides firm supporters and players of the local rock scene, there were also a sizeable number of attendees from theatre, not to mention the welcome sight of plenty of parents with children in tow, giving us hope that the next generation would continue growing up listening to local music.
Opening for UITM was dynamic guitar-slinging duo Jack & Rai. Better known for performing covers, this time around, the duo’s set consisted entirely of original material. Playing original hits like ‘The Fa La La Song’ and their most recent release Hero, their easy, power pop sounds got the crowd warmed up and ready, and we can’t wait to see them make a full comeback (perhaps with a new album) soon.
But of course, the crowd was raring for the main event of the night. Dressed in a pitch black outfit with a structured tutu-like skirt by Frederick Lee, finished with an oversized, golden Peranakan-style belt, and styled with fierce hair by Ashley Lim, Pam Oei was a sight to behold as she stepped onstage with the rest of the Uglies – co-founders and guitarists Noel Ong and David Baptista, bassist Clement Yang and drummer Joseph Saleem, as well as guest backing vocalists Audrey Luo and Candice de Rozario.
Pam’s powerful stage presence starts us off on a strong note, and the lead vocalist packs an army’s worth of personality within her body as she addresses the crowd in between songs, her voice crisp, clear and confident. There’s plenty of surprises along the way as well; making reference to how the band was required to install six security-trained officials within the venue, she even invites one of them up onstage in a quick Q&A session, and highlights the band’s sense of fun.
Opening with the band’s latest single off the album. ‘Mighty Monster’ charmed us with its throwbacks to old school funk, surprising with its melody and hooks, and anthemic in its impossibly powerful energy, setting the tone for the rest of the night. Pam’s voice and the instrumentals sound like studio quality, while Brian Gothong Tan’s onscreen visuals act as a mood setter, ranging from abstract images of futuristic, metamorphosing environments, to familiar scenes of Singapore set to a timelapse, watching traffic go by, while Alvyn Chai’s lighting fits the technicality of the songs, bringing out the intensity of each song, or the opposite of adding a sense of softness in the more emotional numbers.
3 or More If You Can Afford It marks the first album Pam and Joseph will appear on with the band, and in addressing the audience, Pam explained the ‘Big Shoes’ of the previous vocalist she’d have to fill when she auditioned and joined the band back in the early 2010s. As lead vocalist, not only did she have to sing well, she’d also have to write each song’s melody and lyrics, as the band throws her instrumentals.
Evidently though, she’s left a very strong influence on the band’s musical style and lyrical themes with the songs on the album. The stories each song tell are simultaneously deeply personal, yet somehow universal; as a self-proclaimed faghag, she reaches out to her loving ‘ah kua’ fans with the LGBTQ-positive Pride song ‘You Can’t Touch Me’, and injects a strong sense of the personal without cliche, with rocky relationship song ‘Breathless’ and ‘Hey Baby’, inspired by her own son, both of which seethe with emotion as she announces lyrics like ‘I will love you even if you leave me breathless’, following up with a soaring ‘you do, you doooooo’.
Perhaps most emotional of all is the song ‘Emma Dreaming’, dedicated to fellow Dim Sum Dolly, the late Emma Yong. Before she begins, Pam takes a deep breath and a big drink of water, preparing herself for the emotional depth in which she is about to dig. It goes off without a hitch, and we feel her loss palpably in the air, as images of Emma appear on the screen, and it’s almost as if Emma herself is there with us, as Pam’s voice wails with the struggles of letting go in this breathtaking power ballad.
Reassuring audiences that there will be no encores, Ugly in the Morning ends off with closing track ‘No Such Thing As Magic’, inspired by the plague of questionable pastors leading megachurches in Singapore. It’s a rousing way to end, thick with its instrumentals and practically electric with how Pam preaches its title to the audience in the chorus, clever, angry and above all, a musically sound piece whose sounds reverberate within our very soul.
This was a performance that was nothing short of incredible, and only goes to show the sheer innovation and passion that keeps UITM going year after year is well worth the effort, if this is the result. Local music is no doubt creatively in a good place, and with the support we’ve seen at UITM’s album launch, one can only hope that Singaporeans from all backgrounds can and will continue to unite over the pride we share in the brilliance of our local musicians. Here’s to more, more and still more of UITM in the years to come.
To celebrate the release of their new album, we’re giving away one limited edition, physical copy of Ugly In The Morning’s 3 Or More If You Can Afford It, signed by all five band members! All you have to do is:
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Purchase Ugly In the Morning’s 3rd album and merchandise on their website here.