Goodness, this kid again. I really, really love this record, though. Partly, of course, because it puts me in mind of 2012, which I think may have been a really good year. Also, I like music with English vibes (as opposed to English music that just sounds American.) And pretty young men, I like pretty young men, especially when they’re all sad and shit.
Jake Bugg was basically a sentient walking fetus when he made his first record, but damned if he doesn’t write world weary tunes about love and heartbreak like a man old enough to drink. There’s no conceivable way he actually would have known the feelings he was writing about. But you wouldn’t guess it, because the feelings are there. It’s a sad song that takes you by the heart like the singer has lived all of your life with you. And that is, damn, good songwriting right there.
I love the plaintiveness of Jake Bugg’s voice. The kid sounds like a sad little angel. In, like, a sexy way. Or course, pretty boys who have the sads for no reason is basically its own genre, and it’s rather a weak basis to build a career on, not that there’s any shortage of people who’ve built careers on just that. Jake Bugg, fortunately, isn’t trying to build his brand on having just one mood. This guy does have some range, although he’s proved that it doesn’t include rapping. And, yes, being all feelsy and sensitive is a strong suit. I like a moderate amount of well-delivered feelsiness, myself. I think this is just the right amount.
As far as simple pleasures go, good music will always top the list. There’s nothing like the manufactured angst of another person to soothe our own worries. Like anyone, I love a good emotional ballad. I think this one is well on its way to becoming a classic – at least in my canon! Jake Bugg, of course, has established himself as an artist who’s here to stay. As I was saying last week, the boy wonder had to deal with the growing pains of growing out of his ‘boy wonder’ hype. A challenge for any artist who burst out very young. Bugg has the advantage that he’s always sounded wiser than his years, which makes it easier to become an actual mature adult. (As opposed to someone trying to outgrow an adolescent persona.) Hype itself can do as much harm to a young career as it does good, and it must be a relief to be able to operate and make creative choices without having all that pressure. So here is a young man who got clobbered with a lot of hype right out of the gate, and he’s been growing up ever since, with increasingly less hype but more creative freedom. Some people thought Jake Bugg’s second album was a let-down, after all that hype. Too well-produced! Too similar to the first one! I did think that the Rick Rubin treatment was uncalled for; not every promising young talent needs to be bundled off to Rick Rubin. But in the context of the artist’s progression, it’s a very natural second step, and as you can hear, there’s some great songwriting going on.
I’ve been following Jake Bugg since day one, and the kid’s been pretty consistent, even if he’s outgrown the wunderkind hype. But nothing he’s done since 2012 has compared to his debut. Understandably so; the huge impression his first record made was due in part to the wonderment that something so completely well-formed and characteristic could come from a teenage boy with no previous show business experience. It’s the kind of debut that feels really special because it’s so unexpected. The same level of sophistication loses its glow when it’s coming from a guy now in his mid-twenties, and that’s the burden of being an early bloomer. But that doesn’t make the record a novelty or a flash in the pan. It’s held up and probably will continue to hold up better than most of what came out in 2012, because it doesn’t sound like a product of its time. It sounds like the work of someone who doesn’t care what time he’s living in.
It’s adorable to hear a kid barely out of school lamenting about how much hard living he’s seen. Most of us at 17 haven’t seen very much beyond our own living room. There are, of course and unfortunately, plenty of children who’ve seen lifetimes of horror in the years in takes most of us to figure out there’s no Easter bunny, but I have it on good authority that Jake Bugg wasn’t one of them. But here is where the artistry comes in. If you can’t imagine a life outside your own circle, you’re not much of an artist, and songwriting is all about empathy and imagination. If Jake can imagine himself as a real tough who’s been to a lot of knife fights, we can imagine it too.
I didn’t love Jake Bugg’s third album as much the first two, and apparently a lot of critics agreed with me. He tried to go in some new directions that really didn’t work. Not everybody is meant to rove all over the map, so to speak. At the risk of becoming that guy who just plows the same rut over and over, Bugg is best sticking at what he’s good at. Which is being a plaintive teen idol for girls who really regret that they missed out on 1962. I really regret that I missed out on 1962, and I love jailbaity young men with feelings, so I’m totally the target market here, and I find songs like this one irresistible. There may be an element of affectation in Bugg’s nostalgic aesthetic, and it would be insufferable without substance, but luckily the music is more than strong enough to balance it out. An artist this talented can allow himself all manner of affectation; in fact, the ability to carry an affectation and pull it off is what makes an artist interesting on top of just talented.