Review: Jake Bugg – ‘Jake Bugg’

buggIt’s a damning indictment on today’s mainstream musical circuit when the phrase ‘18-year-old up and coming star’ conjures images of Justin Bieber or any number of X Factor warblers, striking fear into the very soul of any self-respecting music lover.

This in mind, it’s only natural for anyone unaware of Jake Bugg to perhaps be a little wary upon approach. But fear not non-Beliebers, this young chap is the real deal.

And how.

The Nottingham lad wears his influences on his sleeve, but refreshingly manages throughout the duration of his self titled debut album to steer miles clear of flat out parody. Rather his music tips a joyously knowing wink to the acoustic folk scene of the 1960s whilst still managing to poignantly convey the teenage angst you would expect from one so young.

Ironically, since Bugg himself claims to be relatively unfamiliar with his material, early Bob Dylan is the overwhelming influence for much of the album. A Tennessee drawl that scarcely befits the mouth it emanates from and a world weary demeanour of course means this comparison will always be prominent, but this barely skims the surface of the variety on display here.

Because even though the record sounds like it was recorded in 1963, the range of musical influences is staggering. From the haunting blues of Robert Johnson via the King himself by way of Donovan right through to Pete Doherty and the lyrical stylings of the Arctic Monkeys, it’s all here. Even Oasis, a band who were first feeling Supersonic when our starlet was barely in nappies, are represented to some extent.

And yet, magnificently, it all feels fresh and original.

Kicking off proceedings on a particularly buoyant note and setting the fast paced, punchy tone of the album as a unit is ‘Lightning Bolt’, a song that garnered much praise for Bugg after he performed it on Later…With Jools Holland some months back.

Touting experience and wisdom beyond his years, Jake laments his past on the aptly named ‘Two Fingers’, the almost euphoric chorus boasting ‘I got out alive and I’m here to stay’ as he reminisces about drinking White Lightning in his kitchen. His claim that he’s ‘an old dog who’s learned new tricks’ may be slightly far fetched given his tender years, but anyone who grew up on a council estate as he did, Clifton in Nottingham, can certainly appreciate the sentiment behind the lyrics.

Taste It’ is a Kinks-esque whirlwind of traditional rock and roll, while anthem-in-the-making ‘Seen It All’ recounts an ecstasy fuelled night on the tiles in which our hero witnessed a brutal stabbing. This track is a particularly radiant showcase for Bugg’s blend of teenage swagger, 21st century sensibilities and retro roots, in less than three minutes cascading from youthful bravado to a heartfelt reflection on the perils of senseless violence.

Trouble Town’ provides yet further insight into the dreams of escape; facing contemplative council estate teens with a delightfully inappropriate upbeat tone, offset perfectly by the Johnny Cash stomp of ‘The Ballad Of Mr Jones’.

Out and out ballad ‘Someplace’ is a true showstopper that could have been an outtake from ‘Urban Hymns‘, and it’s difficult to believe that the pained lyrics were borne of an 18-year-old mind, let alone that someone of that age could possibly have experienced heartbreak on that level.

Importantly, it seems genuine. Jake Bugg seems genuine. The real thing.

This boy is a born star, of that there is no doubt. After support slots with an impressive string of acts, including his hero Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds, a November tour of small venues across the UK guaranteed to be packed to the rafters is next on the agenda, and who knows where from there.

Anyone with a penchant for regaling tales of an ‘I was there’ nature would be foolish to miss this one.

(Graham Miller)

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