Jake Bugg – ‘On My One’ Review

On the first album he’s written himself, Bugg’s attempts at rapping are best forgotten but the bluesy shuffles are reassuringly familiar

The title of [a]Jake Bugg[/a]’s third album acts as a not-so-subtle reminder that it’s the first one that Bugg himself is wholly responsible for. Having employed (at the behest of his label) a team of professional songwriters on his first two records, Bugg has taken off the training wheels, not only writing ‘On My One’ himself but producing most of it, too. The stakes are certainly high; following the relative disappointment of 2013’s ‘Shangri La’, Bugg has described this album as “make or break” for his career. His critics, meanwhile, will delight in the irony of a man who once positioned himself as a bastion of authenticity and a bulwark against X Factor puppetry striving, like so many ‘inauthentic’ pop stars before him, to succeed by his own songwriting chops.

As you might expect, he occasionally strives a little too hard. Bugg’s decision to try his hand at rapping on ‘Gimme The Love’ and ‘Ain’t No Rhyme’ turns out to be a convincing argument for more record company interference, and proof that all white rock musicians with similar aspirations should be issued copies of Dee Dee Ramone’s dire ‘Funky Man’ and made to listen at gunpoint. The latter is especially grievous, with Bugg aiming for gritty social realism but coming up with an accidentally-Alan Partridge PSA on the perils of council estates: “I understand that it must be a hard life / I know I’m lucky and I can’t sympathise / Patronising people trying to give advice / Come on Curtis, just put down the knife”.

Happily, this reinvention is only half-hearted: besides ‘Never Wanna Dance’, on which he appears to be channelling Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’, the rest of the album occupies reassuringly familiar territory. The title track is a wizened, bluesy shuffle delivered with a world-weariness that makes life as an internationally successful musician sound like 10 years in a chain gang; ‘Put Out The Fire’ is a Merseybeat tubthumper in the vein of ‘Trouble Town’ or ‘Lightning Bolt’, while ‘Love, Hope And Misery’ is the kind of soaring, torch-song balladry he’s always had a knack for. Given the symbolic significance of going it alone, you can understand Bugg’s desire to try something new, but it’s only when he plays to his strengths that ‘On My One’ comes into its own.