Just 13 months after his hugely successful debut album was released, Jake Bugg returns with its follow up. ‘Shangri-La’ was recorded in Malibu with superproducer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with Beastie Boys, Run DMC and Kanye West to name a few. The resulting album is an energetic snapshot of a young songwriter buoyed with the sort of confidence you would expect from a teenager with the world at his feet.
There’s A Beast And We All Feed It
A brief intro for the album, this short skiffle sees Bugg worry to himself about living life to the max and having someone to hold close when times get tough. It also includes the line, “scared someone will tweet it”, a rare nod to the modern world from Bugg.
The song that comes complete with a video directed by the legendary Shane Meadows. The frantic caper caught on camera by the director of This Is England is matched by a jaunty tune, the second in a row on the album. Having toured his debut album relentlessly, including gigs with Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses, ‘Shangri-La’ opens with the feel of an album Bugg will tear through on stage and have a bit of fun with.
What Doesn’t Kill You
Drummers on ‘Shangri-La’ include Red Hot Chili Peppers’ member and Will Ferrell lookalike Chad Smith as well as Pete Thomas, who recently worked with Arctic Monkeys on ‘AM’. As you would expect, there is a sharp energy that runs through the percussion of the album and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is one of Bugg’s tightest songs to date as well as one of his catchiest. It seems hanging with the legends is rubbing off on the lad.
Me and You
“All the time people follow us where we go,” sings Bugg on this laid-back acoustic ode to a lovelorn relationship. Nods to “flashes” (camera?) as well as the lyric “all of these people want us to fail,” and celebrity gossipers suggest this song is about Bugg’s short relationship with top model Cara Delevingne.
Messed Up Kids
Bugg said in the lead up to making ‘Shangri-La’ that he wouldn’t be able to write about the council estates and characters of Nottingham any more now that he’s touring the world and selling thousands of albums. While this is true for the majority of the album, ‘Messed Up Kids’ is a return to the social realism that made Bugg’s name. Telling the story of drug dealing Johnny and homeless girl Jenny, this song is also a nod toward Bugg’s ability to write a crowd-rousing anthem, and suggest that he has been listening to more Oasis than Don McLean in recent months.
A Song About Love
Jake Bugg is arguably at his best when he’s rattling through a fast-paced scuttling song, densely packed with lyrics and melody. However ‘A Song About Love’ sees his progression as a big time balladeer. While his voice struggles to carry the demands of such a huge song, it’s comforting to see him tackle such an ambitious track.
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All Your Reasons
Earlier this year, Bugg spoke of his disappointment at working with songwriters in Nashville and discovering they had become lazy. “They were presenting songs they’d already written, not caring what I wanted,” he said. “I had to say: ‘No mate, let’s get our guitars out and see what happens together.’ It was really disappointing.” Sadly, ‘All Your Reasons’ sounds like a song that was recorded before he built up the courage to make his voice heard. A largely forgettable blues number and the first time ‘Shangri-La’ dips in quality.
Channeling the same 60s icons as The Strypes mainline with every blues riff and R&B howl, ‘Kingpin’ is a vintage firecracker from the Bugg canon and one which will be a live favourite.
“We’ve not been together for some time now, after how I handled it you’re not to blame,” sings Bugg as he laments the end of a relationship and his own role in its downfall. “We just grew out of love,” he cries – sounding heartbroken and soulful.
Brittle to the point of breaking, ‘Pine Trees’ is a lo-fi moment on an album which sounds thoroughly expensive throughout. Just Bugg and his guitar, it’s a timely reminder of the rough and ready charm which endeared us to the Nottingham teenager back in his early days.
A slow-burning build up gives way to a rip-roaring chorus and ponderous, almost psychedelic guitars in a song that places Bugg close to Richard Ashcroft in the urban poet stakes. “Maybe it’s all that you’ve done wrong, so just bite your silver tongue that you lied with, lied to yourself,” he snarls, angrily as the atmosphere around him escalates to breaking point. A momentous release never quite arrives but ‘Simple Pleasures’ adds new textures to the album and feels more modern than a lot of the retro material found elsewhere.
Storm Passes Away
This final song brings the album to a close in intimate style with Bugg kicking back and delivering an effortlessly breezy goodbye kiss to ‘Shangri-La’. Similar to ‘Pine Trees’, this feels like a closer look into Bugg’s soul, as if we’re joining him in his bedroom as he knocks around ideas for songs and jots down notes for lyrics.