Rick Rubin’s helped him go rock, but it’s the quieter moments that show Bugg’s strengths
A cynic might suggest that the swift turnaround between Jake Bugg’s first album and its follow-up owes less to the way Dylan and Donovan used to churn them out, and more to Bugg’s dwindling proximity to his favourite subject, the mean crescents of Clifton. That cynic may just be onto something, too – leave it any longer, be photographed on the arm of another London socialite, and kitchen-sink shanties like ‘Slumville Sunrise’ or ‘Messed Up Kids’ might start to sound as inauthentic as the talent-show wannabes he has a habit of turning his ire towards. Forgetting where you came from is one thing, but pretending it’s still where you’re at can be just as foolish.
By rush-releasing ‘Shangri La’, Bugg manages to circumvent some second album pratfalls, although he’s succumbed to the most obvious one – it’s not as good as his first. That’s despite the efforts of Rick Rubin, whose presence is a much bigger deal in theory than in practice. Bugg claims to have been unaware of the producer’s reputation before they began working together, and the biggest change Rubin presides over is a slight shift into rockier territory, musically and figuratively. Bugg’s voice – an acquired taste at the best of times – simply isn’t suited to the nuance-free likes of ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ or ‘Kingpin’, honking and braying his way through both like a man having his backside paddled with a splintery cricket bat.
Yet when he’s not trying to fill the Oasis-shaped void, Bugg’s talents are given space to shine. ‘Me And You’, with its subtle allusions to his relationship with Cara Delevingne, is a sweetly melancholic canter The Coral would be proud to call their own, while the hushed, pin-drop loveliness of ‘Pine Trees’ is a match for even his best song, ‘Broken’. The second half of the record is littered with quieter, contemplative moments (the winsome alt.country of ‘Kitchen Table’ is another that warrants mention), and they serve to remind you that he’s capable of being much more than the scowling lad-rock caricature his detractors love to hate.
Of course, the more he divides opinion, the more the faithful will circle their wagons around him. ‘Shangri La’ is basically more of the same, and for many of his fans, that’ll be more than enough. It would be a shame, however, if it was enough for Bugg, too.