Is Jake Bugg a gobby Gallagher brother in-waiting, or a knock-off Scrappy-Doo? Regardless of what you think of the Nottingham musician – who first rose to prominence in Glastonbury’s unsigned talent competition back in 2011 – there’s no denying that his self-titled 2012 debut felt cohesive and assured. Powered by a scrappy urgency, he sang of running around his Clifton suburb with a lit joint, and his mixed feelings about having escaped it; though he wore his indie-folk influences on his sleeve, it was a charismatic affair.
Since then, Bugg has struggled to replicate its raw charm. He’s kept trying on different hats ever since, from clumsy grasps at rap on 2016’s ‘On My Own’ to the mostly acoustic ‘Hearts That Strain’ a year later. While that record saw Bugg sack off the majority of his co-writers in an attempt to uncover something more authentic, man, ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ finds him performing another U-turn and insisting that, actually, he really does love pop music after all.
Apparently influenced by the likes of ABBA and the Bee Gees, it also sees him re-recruiting a crack team of hit-penning songwriters, including Camilla Cabello and Dua Lipa collaborator Ali Tamposi, as well as Andrew Watt (who, besides working with Justin Bieber and Post Malone, produced much of Miley Cyrus’ outstanding pop-rock record ‘Plastic Hearts’).
Unfortunately, ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ possesses about as much pizazz as a slightly feeble party popper. There’s very little sense of pop music’s crucial element – fun – to be found here. The aptly named ‘Lost’ pairs a generous helping of synthetic, nu-disco violin with a ‘Jolene’-style bassline, and yet still manages to sound utterly joyless. Though ‘Rabbit Hole’ gets off to a decent start, with Bugg’s snarling delivery bringing to mind Alex Turner, it never really builds on the early momentum.
The strongest tracks on ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ are the simplest – essentially a hulking, brute-force pop-rock track, ‘Screaming’ sounds custom-written to go off live, while ‘Downtown’ combines combines Bugg’s ear for a ballad with subtle orchestral arrangements.
In the opening moments of ‘All I Need’ Jake Bugg sets out his mission statement for this album atop catchy but unremarkable retro-soul: “Call me cynical, but original,” he sings. The problem is, based on ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ – a muddled album that claims to love pop, but seems thoroughly averse to having any kind of fun – it seems he’s mostly the former.
Release date: August 20
Release label: RCA