It is nearly five years since Jake Bugg burst onto the British music scene and was signed by Mercury Records.
“Country Song” was featured on a beer commercial for Greene King IPA and the hype on Bugg’s young shoulders reached astronomical levels. To his credit, the shy teenager from Clifton, Nottingham took it all in his stride.
I fell in love with Jake’s music after hearing the dynamic “Lightning Bolt” from his debut album. The song consisted of just three chords, a fast strum pattern and the track soared with energy. There was something both retro and contemporary about his sound. Debut album “Jake Bugg” sold over 600,000 copies in the United Kingdom and was an album of catchy pop songs (“Trouble Town”, “Lightning Bolt” and “Two Fingers”) and gentler folk songs that captured a beautiful introspection. Anyone who had labelled Bugg as a Stone Roses/Oasis wannabe were in for a shock. Ballad “Broken” is heartbreaking and haunting, a song layered with intensity, maturity and emotion. Jake’s voice sounding unlike any of his peers. It’s a voice that at times mirrors the soft tones of Donovan, the gorgeous drama of a Gene Pitney and yet is distinctively his own.
YouTube: Jake Bugg performing “Broken” Live on KCRW
Jake’s second album marked a more ambitious and saw him team up with legendary producer Rick Rubin. The resulting Shangri La was recorded in California in the summer of 2013. The folk ballads were still intricate and pure but the album also featured a much heavier rock based sound. Singles “What Doesn’t Kill You” and “Slumville Sunrise” are fast and furious (the latter soars with a bluegrass type beat). The standout track on the album was “Messed Up Kids“. It’s a brilliant slice of observant social commentary about a Britain where over a million people have used food banks in the last year. The chorus – bristling with melody – carries stark imagery “everywhere I see a sea of empty pockets, Beautiful girls with eyes so dark within their socket”.
Jake began hitting the headlines following an online feud with boy band One Direction. Angered by people copmparing One Direction to The Beatles, Jack said “Breaking America doesn’t mean a thing. They must know that they’re terrible”. This led to an angry response from Louis Tomlinson who tweeted “Hi Jake Bugg. Do you think slagging off boy bands makes you more indie?”.
It was a piece of pop theatre that the tabloids loved and many took it as an opportunity to try to discredit Bugg. But the point was valid. In an X-Factor saturated pop scene where credibility is often judged by how many records you shift, how many YouTube subscribers you gain or how many people follow you on Twitter, substance will always win out.
You can sense the tide has began to turn a little against Jake Bugg in recent months. Noel Gallagher’s scathing attack in NME last February didn’t help matters:
If you need help to write songs, join a fucking band.’ Right? That’s why music is dying. They’re singers, they’re performers, they’re not singer-songwriters. There should be a new term, because if they’re singer-songwriters, what am I, then? What’s Paul Weller? What’s Paul McCartney? What’s Neil Young or Bob Dylan?- Noel Gallagher, NME (February 2015)
Jake began talking about his third studio album “On My One” as “Make or Break”. The lead track was a country-blues ballad tinged with regret and loneliness and was written during a period of extensive touring – “Three years on the road.. 400 shows..Where do I call home?..No place to go..Where do I belong“. But it wasn’t a true taster of what was too follow..
Second single “Gimme The Love” tested jake’s fan base like never before. Jake’s distinctive folk and rock sound was replaced by a rave-pop landcscape that was full of electronic beats and became the first Jake Bugg that you could dance too. It sounded like a glorious marriage between EMF and The Stone Roses. I loved it. It seemed to encapsulate youth and was one of those genuinely thrilling pop moments that only come about once every few years. But one quick peek at Facebook showed that the knives were already being sharpened:
This sounds like crap
Bad Version of Oasis.! Sorry I Am Out
I liked Jake Bugg because he DIDN’T make pop music
.He was a bloke with an attitude and a guitar, now he’s electro-pop shite like all the rest
I miss the old Jake Bugg
The biggest concern I had for jake Bugg was never about him or his music..It was about whether his fan-base could grow with him. The section of his support who dribble over his moptop and share his photos all over Tumblr seem devoid of conversation about the one thing that actually matters..his music.
“On My One” is a glorious assault on the senses. It’s a record that shimmers with freedom, expression ,and ambition. It’s also a record that sticks two fingers up to his detractors; Jake wrote and produced much of this record himself.
“Love, Hope And Ambition” might well be his best song yet. It’s a big, bold statement with Jake’s heart melting vocals sounding expansive and full of drama. The stop-start guitar sound gives it a beautifully rich 70’s pop-rock sound.
“Never Wanna Dance” is the goosebump alley of Jake Bugg songs. As someone who has been heavily criticised for his singing voice, he delivers this incredible sultry vocal that recalls soul legends Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. Jake’s upper range is gorgeous with a little hint of falsetto shining through. It’s a soulful slice of lovers rock.
“Bitter Salt” is a fantastic tune. Punchy drums and up-tempo beat meet Jake’s urgent and fresh vocals in a song that sounds like it could be played throughout the summer on radio.
The production on this record sounds fantastic, the album has a bigger sound and you can hear a thrilling growth and transformation taking place. “Ain’t No Rhyme” with its loose baggy sound is old skool hip-hop and Jake’s rapping may not be to everyone’s tate (and he’s unlikely to give Eminem sleepless nights) but it’s a cool tune that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on he debut Beastie Boys album “Licensed to Ill” from 1986.
That a song like “Ain’t No Rhyme” can sit comfortably alongside the warm country ballad “Livin’ Up Country” is a testament to the incredible kaleidoscopic songwriting. The angelic “All That” is more beautiful than this world deserves.
Other reviews have used Jake’s ambition against him. But his taste in music has always been diverse. Why can’t an artist like Jake listen to indie, pop, soul, country and R&B? Didn’t artists like Bowie and Blur achieve their longevity by exploring different musical directions. It’s unfair and stifling to place an artist like Bugg into a neat comfortable niche or genre box.
Despite Jake’s comments that “On My One” could well be his make or break album, I think he can look forward to a long and fascinating career. He was and remains one of the best singer-songwriters in the Uk right now. His career growth could well sort out his real fans by this time next year.
“On My One” is out now.