For those of us who occasionally strive to defend heritage-minded, guitar based indie rock from critics who would gleefully dance on its graves, Jake Bugg is a real bummer.
He plays into all the worst stereotypes, with his surly po-face, his sexless unaesthetic, his narrow opinions on X Factor, One Direction, Taylor Swift and the importance in Our Troubled Times of proper songs, played on real instruments, crafted from the wood of integrity trees felled in the Forest Of Authenticity. Never mind that his debut album was co-written with a former members of Snow Patrol and The Longpigs (presumably Dr Luke was busy) and he got his big break on a beer advert.
Still, unlike most of those I’d be happier to fly the flag of guitar music, Bugg is big news, and beloved. His forthcoming second album, Shangri-La (named after producer Rick Rubin’s Malibu studio), with a heftier sound and a scope beyond the smalltown grit and trouble of his first set, is likely to make him more so.
The first new track, ‘There’s A Beast And We All Feed It’, suggests that there hasn’t been much in the way of a musical makeover, following as it does the same old Johnny Cash/Donovan feisty country shuffle, Bugg’s voice seemingly leaving his throat ready-coated with a Sun Records patina. ‘Storm Passes Away’, another new track, is - you guessed it - a country amble with amiable bass and a flatly bawled chorus.
Bugg’s voice is often irritatingly nasal and whiny. Of course, it never stopped Dylan, but then Dylan had Dylan’s songs. The only revolutionary thought the likes of ‘Something’s Changing’ inspire is “maybe The Fratellis weren’t that bad.” Newie ‘Messed Up Kids’, though, is more promising, stroppy rock with more heft, a hammering chorus and guitar work with more space and stretch to it. Recently unveiled ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, too, has a bit more life than the usual George Formby Sings Cash template, with a Sex Pistols sneer to it.
The lasting impression, though, is that much as people gloss over the fact that some of the great songwriters didn’t have it all together at 19, Bugg could do with walking the walk a bit more; his adoption of classic singer-songwriter models has a touch of the all-the-gear-and-no-idea. A cover of Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)’ underlines that painfully. Let’s hope Shangri- La has worked some magic that wasn’t in evidence tonight.