Pine Trees

There’s something a little uncanny about Jake Bugg. He’s a button-faced millennial boy who somehow carries the vibe of an old folksinger who peaked in 1962. He has a voice that belongs on a warped old record you found in your uncle’s basement. How much of that is self-conscious, I’m not sure. He knows his music history, that’s for sure, and he didn’t choose that bowl cut by coincidence, either. But lots of people try to look and sound vintage only to succeed in looking like poseurs. So there’s more to it than just liking the aesthetic very, very much. I honestly didn’t love Bugg’s third album (he experimented with some new directions that didn’t suit him) but I have complete faith in a long solid career about to unfold. Let’s see this kid go from a prodigy to a fully baked artist.

Note to Self

This is precious! Jake Bugg is a precious little boy with fluffy hair. You may even decide it’s a mite too precious. A little bit too self-consciously retro. I mean, look at his adorable precious logo, it’s like he got himself signed to Deram Records. My opinion is, Jake Bugg can get away with pushing the homage towards parody for a couple of reasons. One, obviously, is he’s a seriously talented songwriter and musician, and that gives him a lot of leeway on how he wants to grow his image. And two, what he’s trying to evoke is not what anybody else would think of trying to evoke. He’s reminding me of a young folk-pop troubadour on a package tour in 1965, making an appearance on Ready, Steady, Go, or Thank Your Lucky Stars, or even TOTP. Who even remembers those things? When you might see a teenage David Robert Jones or Steven Georgiou sharing a bill with Billy Fury or Cilla Black on a shoddily produced variety show with a sarcastic host who hates rock’n’roll. That’s not a nostalgic vision many people share; it’s not the sixties kitsch that sells a million t-shirts, and if young Jake mimics those bygone figures a little too well, not many people would even notice.

Messed Up Kids

At first I couldn’t decide whether to be annoyed or delighted with this song. On one hand, what a great tune. On the other, such a trite little slice of social commentary. Jake Bugg is great at combining a sound reminiscent of some long forgotten early sixties skiffle group with seriously radio-ready melodies. And he’s shown himself capable of smart writing. It’s just in this case he doesn’t seem capable of making a better observation than, yes, some kids are ‘messed up’ and hang around on street corners selling drugs. On yet another hand though, this kid just turned 21. To him, pointing out the obvious correlation between empty pockets and teenage prostitution probably seems like a pretty groundbreaking thing to say. What 21 year old hasn’t gawked at the ugly machinations of the world as if nobody else had ever noticed it before? Jake Bugg is practically still a child, and he’s got plenty of time to grow into a more nuanced songwriter. Final verdict; pretty great song.

Me and You

Jake Bugg looks like a child and sings with the voice of some long-departed folksinger. He has a very distinctive voice that perhaps not everyone will find pleasant. Weird is almost always preferable to bland, of course, but weird without substance isn’t very interesting in the end either. Luckily for Bugg, he’s more than an odd voice; he’s got great emotive abilities and writes lovely melodies with smart lyrics. He found success at a very tender age, and if he doesn’t blow it, he’s got a long path ahead. It should be a joy to watch him develop.

Lightning Bolt

Rising star Jake Bugg is a barely grown boy who looks and sounds like he was time warped from 1963. A mean feat, that. One that many aim towards and many, many fall short of. Bugg sounds so oddly authentic it comes as a bit of shock. I don’t know how he does it. Maybe it’s from much time spent listening to old skiffle records, if such a thing is available, or just some innate authenticity. Whatever it is, it’s pretty special.

Kingpin

So, the word on Jake Bugg’s new album…The good news is, you won’t regret buying it. The bad news is – there isn’t really any bad news, more like lukewarm news. No, Jake Bugg hasn’t evolved a considerable amount since his first album was released last year. He’s still in that early career stage where he needs to focus on cementing his style. The new record, Shangri-La was produced by Rick Rubin, which is a high honor for a newbie kid just cutting his second disc. Honestly, I don’t think Rubin was necessary. Sure, he’s brought the polish, but Bugg was doing just fine sounding unpolished. My one niggle with the new record, and I’m not sure whether or not to heft the blame entirely on Rick Rubin, is that it pushes for a more aggressive garage rock sound that doesn’t really favor Bugg’s voice. Bugg’s got a bit of a weird voice; it’s kind of nasally and he has an accent. That’s great news – his voice is easily recognizable and hard to forget. But it may not be best suited for carrying the kind of generic dive-bar rock that the new album is hinting at, presumably by the hand of Rubin. It’s not enough to truly mar the album, but it does suggest that things could go downhill in the future. If Bugg or his handlers wanted to go in a broad, mainstream direction, it would be a great tragedy. Fortunately, from everything I’ve heard about him, he doesn’t seem like the type angling for mass appeal. And the record does, for the most parts, play to his strengths. There are enough songs that showcase that odd voice in a flattering midtempo setting, and his gift for melody shines throughout. Bugg seems to be at his best with simple, observational, narrative songs, something for which big loud guitars and oversmooth production  aren’t necessary. Jake Bugg is very young and still developing a clear identity, both as an artist and as a person, and I wouldn’t want to see him get pushed into any pigeonholes by overenthusiastic producers, but it looks like he’s still on the right track… so far.

(photo by Paul Rousteau)

Broken

Future really big star in the making here, hopefully. Jake Bugg is 19 and about to release his second album. Produced by Rick Rubin, no less. The second album is a very touchy, make-it-or-break-it time, a time when a lot of people fall on their faces. The main pitfall, of course, is the difference between making your first record in obscurity and then having to face the pressure of expectations the second time around. There’s the fallacy of trying to repeat the same formula, which can cause audiences to get bored and wander off, and on the other hand the dangers of experimenting and changing your sound before you’re ready. On the upside, if you’re a productive person who’s been knocking about for some time, you probably have a huge backlog of ideas and material that you’ve just been waiting for the chance to work on. It’s not uncommon to get two or three albums from a single short period of productivity, which is great to fall back on, because once you get famous you’re not gonna have all that unfettered time on your hands to just do what you want and practice and write. Trying to guess which potential Next Big Things actually grow up to be Big Things and which ones fizzle out is like betting on horses. You can handicap the race all you want and study all the odds, but unexpected things happen. But that’s what makes it exciting, of course. I would put money on this kid.