What sort of music would you expect a teenager from Nottingham make after a UK number one debut album, a million in record sales worldwide and a sold out tour of the US? One thing’s for certain: Jake Bugg is miles away from the Clifton council estate he grew up in – 6000 miles, to be exact, as he’s been in Rick Rubin’s Shangri La studio in Malibu. The fact that he’s named his new album after the place is a fitting reflection of his current star-studded lifestyle.
Fortunately that journey, which could have removed him from the gritty authenticity that made the British public connect with him in the first place, has actually made his music a bit better. Like Arctic Monkeys
before him (a comparison that’s strongest on ‘Shangri La’s first single, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’), the American influence on his Brit-rock sensibilities rather suits Jake Bugg.
In contrast to his debut, a summing-up of his teenage years, ‘Shangri La’ was written within the space of a single year on the road. Bugg’s voice is stronger and his lyrics have the authority of experience: ‘We both should believe the path we chose,’ he gently sings to somebody against a backdrop of twiddling guitar and country rhythms in ‘You and Me’. Writing sessions in Nashville have given rise to an album steeped in country and drenched with rockabilly vigour, even as it retains Bugg’s mini-Gallagher swagger. Sometimes that gets irritating: on the tinny country ballad ‘Pine Trees’, Bugg’s accent even dips into southern American twangs – never a good idea for a British singer (take note, Joss Stone).
Luckily, the rest of ‘Shangri La’ styles it out. The white-knuckle hooks of ‘Kingpin’, the elated rock of ‘Simple Pleasures’ (which channels The Verve on a good day) and the bluesy prowess of ‘Slumville Surprise’ keep Jake Bugg’s reflective second album from becoming dispirited, and result in a record that’s nothing short of impressive.
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