Recently in danger of becoming more famous for his online spats with One Direction as he is his Bob Dylan tribute act, 19-year-old Jake Bugg’s whole career appears to have been based on the notion that he somehow offers a more credible and authentic alternative to the likes of the X-Factor boyband. And yet take a look at the credits of his self-titled UK chart-topping debut album and you’ll notice a string of songwriters for hire, including former Snow Patrol guitarist Iain Archer, Ex-Longpigs frontman Crispin Hunt and most notably Matt Prime, the man behind hits from talent show graduates Olly Murs, Liberty X and Will Young.
It’s the same story on the permanently scowling Bugg’s second studio effort. Although this time ’round, it’s Rick Rubin who has been given the responsibility of adding all the vintage studio trickery in a bid to make it sound like it was recorded in 1963 rather than 2013. Despite swapping the council estates of Nottingham for the bright lights of the legendary producer’s Malibu studio, Shangri La is still an entirely derivative affair that’s once again rendered almost unlistenable by Bugg’s irritatingly nasal tones.
When he’s not shamelessly aping Dylan or any other number of seminal folksy singer-songwriters, he’s harking back to the plodding pub-rock of the Cool Britannia era’s third-tier outfits. While the laughable pondering of “A Song About Love” (“with your eyes should you cry in your bed”), the hypocritical rally against his detractors on “There’s A Beast And We All Feed It” (“Somehow we’d better speak it/We’re scared someone will tweet it/It’s on the wall but you won’t read it”) and the clichéd lower-class tale of “Messed Up Kids” (“Jenny walks the streets alone/She was fine/But she got kicked out of her home in hard times”) also prove that his ‘urban poet’ tag is well wide of the mark. Bugg’s certainly not the only one baffled by his success.
Despite repeatedly taking pot shots at boybands who offer no real threat, a hypocritical Bugg kicks things into gear with a furious rant against those detractors who upset his family with their needless jibes on a Subterranean Homesick Blues pastiche which sets the tribute act tone ahead: [LISTEN]
Even the presence of reinvention maestro Rick Rubin hasn’t inspired indie-rock’s most po-faced teenager to explore a new creative direction as he moans about the bleak and unglamorous surroundings of his old stomping ground on another hackneyed slice of 60s rockabilly: [LISTEN]
Caught blindsided by a pair of opportunistic thieves, Bugg offers a few insincere words of comfort to his bloodied friend while picking up the pace with a frenetic slice of garage rock which places a distant second to Kelly Clarkson‘s similarly-themed underdog anthem: [LISTEN]
Briefly abandoning Dylan for Cat Stevens, this early 70s folksy ballad offers a vulnerability that Bugg should perhaps display more often as he promises to keep his girl away from the glare of the spotlight in order to save a relationship he can’t imagine living life without: [LISTEN]
Swapping the high life of Los Angeles for the concrete jungle of Nottingham, a reflective Bugg returns to his hometown to pass judgement on those who have nothing better to do than ‘sell their drugs and their bodies’ on an overly-familiar tale of disaffected youth: [LISTEN]
Drifting into the kind of ‘lighters in the air’ territory co-writer Iain Archer first pursued with Snow Patrol, a lovelorn Bugg laments the loss of his first ever relationship on a clunky ballad which fully exposes the irritating whinyness of his nasal vocals: [LISTEN]
Venturing into the kind of ‘quarter-decent three-chord’ indie-rock that swamped the Britpop era, Bugg makes the glaringly simple observation that there’s a lot of pain in the world but still appears to believe that he’s conjured up a theory of earth-shattering proportions: [LISTEN]
Addressing all the ‘haters’ apparently jealous of his ‘realness,’ Bugg vows to keep his head held high on a mundane account of an equally mundane day which tries in vain to inject a sense of urgency with its watered-down The White Stripes-esque blues-rock sound: [LISTEN]
Inspired by the breakdown of his first ever long-term relationship, Bugg’s ear-piercing tortured howlings can perhaps be slightly forgiven here as he struggles to come to terms with the heartlessness of the girl he once loved on a vindictive Neil Young-inspired kiss-off:
Going back to his ‘downtrodden country blues’ basics with this brittle acoustic ballad, Bugg aims for a poetic flavor but once again hopelessly falls short with a reflection on the intuitive powers of Mother Nature which is as nonsensical as it is willfully vague: [LISTEN]
The antidote to his boyband nemesis‘ insecurity-exploiting ballad, Bugg fails to comprehend that sometimes it’s the little things in life that make the biggest difference on a plodding mid-tempo which sounds like Be Here Now-era Oasis covering Red Hot Chili Peppers: [LISTEN]
Displaying his usual lack of self-awareness, Bugg seems rather puzzled as to why he’s constantly described as someone much older than his 19 years, despite closing Shangri La with yet another contrived attempt to ape the old-school country-folk of Dylan circa 1963: [LISTEN]