Jake Bugg - Shangri La (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
WHEN Jake Bugg released his eponymous debut two years ago, the music world sat up and took notice. Here was a gutsy young lad (aged just 17) delivering gritty tales in a classic rock ‘n’ roll style that drew lofty comparisons with everyone from The Beatles to Johnny Cash via Chuck Berry and the Stones.
Following up that album was always going to be tricky. But Bugg makes a decent fist of it with Shangri La, a solid, if unspectacular, sophomore session that finds him relying on that same formula for success. And why not?
Bugg still sounds much older than a teenager. And his guitar prowess continues to dazzle. His ability to draw and emulate the classic sounds of the ’50 and ’60s, whether hard rock, country footstompers or tender ballads, is terrific. The lad never seems daunted by emulating the greats.
Hence, when he takes on the sound of Kentucky with album opener and lead single There’s a Beast and We All Feed It, he sounds like a good ‘ol American boy… not a lad from Nottingham in the Midlands.
It’s a rousing, no-nonsense opening that is just as swiftly followed up by another barn-stormer, Slumville Sunrise, which drops a rollicking chorus and some rip-roaring guitar solos. Bugg crams in the lyrics, too, over an ambitious chorus.
What Doesn’t Kill You incorporates a punk influence reminiscent of The Pixies at times, and maintains the high energy, before Me And You finally gives pause for breath with a country-tinged ballad that effortlessly demonstrates his ability to come over intimate and heartfelt. If you liked Broken on that first album, this is just as likely to melt your heart. Likewise, the penultimate offering Pine Trees, which really does disarm and display a lyrical maturity again beyond his years.
It’s safe to say at this point, however, that Bugg is clearly benefiting from time spent in the company of world-famous producer Rick Rubin, who has given this sophomore effort an extra sheen. Hence, some of the rawer elements of that debut are missing (and sometimes missed).
But Bugg is an easy performer to like. His confidence is well earned and his musical ability clear for all to hear.
Messed Up Kids returns to the Nottingham streets that inspired some of the hard-hitting songs of his debut and finds that nothing has changed (“kids are on the corner with no money, they sell their drugs and body”), yet maintains an insistent set of melodies and guitar hooks as well as one of the album’s best choruses, while Kitchen Table is imbued with a similar sense of darkness and even fear.
Such moments are offset by the swoonsome likes of A Song About Love, a heart on sleeve moment, All Your Reasons, which comes over all blues-rock and earnest (“didn’t want to disappoint you, didn’t want to make you sad”), and the epic Simple Pleasures, which even dares to take on the Californian guitar sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while dropping in another of the LP’s great choruses (complete with slow-build approach).
Storm Passes Away, meanwhile, brings the album to a close with a Nashville leaning moment that, again, is steeped in the classic qualities that are now firmly Bugg’s hallmark. It’s a toe-tapping, breezy climax that genuinely satisfies.
Hence, while not as emphatic a follow-up as that debut record, Shangri La underlines Bugg’s position as one of modern music’s major players. It’s an easy listen and a consistently enjoyable one.
Download picks: Slumville Sunrise, Simple Pleasures, Me And You, Messed Up Kids, All Your Reasons, Simple Pleasures