Jake Bugg has just gone to the top of my festival wish list. His new album, Shangri La, is perfect festival music. Energetic and danceable with pensive interludes.
“Oh that guy. Aren’t they hailing him as the next Bob Dylan?” was what my uncle asked when I told him I’d be reviewing Bugg’s latest album. Pressing play on the first track, There’s A Beast And We All Feed It, the Dylan comparison becomes immediately apparent. The fast-paced, wordy lyrics over rollicking guitar and Bugg’s slightly strained voice are very Bob, although I have learnt that Bugg does not see Dylan as a major influence. Anyway, the track is thoroughly enjoyable and sets the album off to an impressive start.
Bugg’s fast-paced guitar on the first three tracks is relentless: the music careers along like a bus that’s been taken for a joyride. Slumville Sunrise, a song about the council estate he grew up on, is so charged I thought my speakers were about to explode. What Doesn’t Kill You is equally frenetic and one of the highlights of the album.
It soon becomes apparent that the fastest, most high energy songs have been packed into the first 7 minutes of Shangri La as the pace really slows after this and there is only one more fast song, Kingpin, before the end of the album. This is disappointing as Bugg is at his best and most distinctive on up-tempo numbers and they really are a lot of fun. However, of the slower numbers there are definitely some highlights.
Me And You is a sweet song for a lover and Bugg’s vocals are particularly strong here. Messed Up Kids deals with the important theme of kids who fall into difficult circumstances and end up on the streets where “They sell their time, they sell their drugs, they sell their body.”All Your Reasons is a moody, at times almost Angus and Julia Stone-esque track.
There are some low points. I found A Song About Love, Kitchen Table and Pinetrees all a bit dull – perhaps I was just spoilt by the first three songs and expected too much as a consequence.
Even so, this is a remarkably accomplished album, particularly for someone so young. I heard someone call this album Bugg’s “mission statement” and that description is very apt. He has poured himself and his creativity (with a little help from some other very talented songwriters) into these songs and the listener reaps the rewards. It is also better produced than his first album – more vibrant and mature.