Album of the week: Jake Bugg - Shangri La
Tue Nov 19 2013
When comedian Neil Innes looked to skewer Sgt. Pepper's hippie-dippie utopia with his Beatles parody band the Rutles, he titled his joke tune "Shangri La." Obviously. Because what does Shangri La stand for other than some vague fantastical paradise beyond the clouds? It's a stand in for all the dopey psychedelic sentiments in rock & roll, and it's been slapped on smart records, somewhat ironically, by acts like Versus, the Kinks, Stone Temple Pilots and, er, Jackie Gleason and the Insane Clown Posse.
Jake Bugg, precocious 19-year-old British troubadour, has dubbed his slapdash sophomore album Shangri La. With earnestness. With enough earnestness to summon platinum wizard Rick Rubin from the Hollywood Hills as producer. That's an emergency move reserved for 40-year-old rappers and sexagenerian rockers, not 19-year-old wunderkinds.
The damned thing is, it didn't have to be this way, at least not this soon. Bugg already has a winning release in 2013, his self-titled debut, a lovely if uncreative record showcasing his Dylanesque vocals and obsession with all sounds pre-Vietnam. "Lightning Bolt" is a leg-twitching, lip-snarling blast, built for selling nostalgia to Boomers and their kids (and grandkids?), but the strength of the record lies in its quiet reserve. The Gallagher Brothers–like shuffle of "Two Fingers" captures the disgruntled boredom of teenage England in obvious terms, as does the hushed folk of "Note to Self." Which is why it's so freaking frustrating to now hear the kid bashing through bratty rockabilly and stiff blooze recorded with the sound quality of an earbud cranked beyond its volume capacity stuffed in a crushed McDonald's bag under the posterior of a clueless mother riding the bus, like all Rubin productions, like some third-rate, knock-off Arctic Monkeys.
The disasteriously titled "A Song About Love" projects Bugg's Lee Mavers–like quaver high above a lonesome acoustic strum in some approximation of the La's. (I'm starting to understand why the La's never released a follow-up to their stellar debut.) Elsewhere, you're digging far deeper into the dollar bin of Britpop, through the cold oatmeal of Cast, Embrace, the View, Reef, the Enemy, the Pigeon Detectives, the Zutons, Northern Uproar, et al. It's remarkable how money, a fancy studio and a few twists of some knobs can transform a musician from sounding like his influences into sounding like facsimiles of facsimiles of facsimiles of his influences. It doesn't help matters when Bugg is muttering Deepak Chopra tweets: "You can walk in the pine trees / You can sit down / You can hold the earth in your hands." Frankly, if you seek the-'60s-via-the-'90s rock kicks, you'll be far better served by the somehow more courageous new Beady Eye LP, BE, also released in America today.
Having the rock establishment desperately grasp you as its savior has to fuck with a young songwriter's head. But how must it feel to run out of ideas before you hit 20? Well, to paraphrase the Inspiral Carpets, this is how it feels when your words mean nothing at all.