They keep telling me I’m older than I’m supposed to be…
If you put your kids into Kumon or Ignite or whatever accelerated learning programs exist these days, be prepared. They might become super geniuses. And super genius kids are, frankly, kind of scary.
Two years ago Jake Bugg was 17 years old and an unsigned unknown. Fast forward a bit. He just headlined for 17,000 people. Crazy. He’s one of those prodigal kids who can drop out of school before he’s able to legally drink a beer (under UK drinking laws, no less), write some rock’n roll music, and become a sensation. And the fact is that the people who tell him that he’s precocious are right. All you have to do for proof is listen: his new record Shangri-La confirms everything.
At 19, Bugg’s sound is remarkably dialed in. Somewhere between Tom Petty and Don McLean, Bugg sure as hell doesn’t sound his age, neither vocally or compositionally. If anything, he sounds like his birthday was displaced by about three decades while encompassing musical highlights of each of those decades. Shangri-La generally walks down the passing lane between classic British rock n roll and Americana folk music. On the record’s rowdier tracks (“Slumville Sunrise,” “What Doesn’t Kill You,” and “Messed Up Kids”), Bugg is full of youthful and rambunctious zip that harks back to early Arctic Monkeys tracks without sounding cheaply punk. Not only are these tracks lively examples of what rock n roll once was and still ought to be, but they’re also clever. Bugg is something of a poet-prophet like Dylan or Nick Drake. He’s a frank lyricist, writing songs about the degeneration of youth, being harassed by paparazzi as well as being assailed by thugs in back alleys. He counteracts the boisterous rock n roll on the album with mellow, folky lows on “Me And You” – a track that could be grouped alongside Jack White’s “We Are Gonna Be Friends” for its immense cuteness – and “A Song About Love” and “Storm Passes Away.”
The resulting blend of rock’n roll and folk tunes renders a record that is merited by its straightforwardness. Extra, excessive, gratuitous – these are not words to apply to Bugg. In fact, the most excessive thing about him is that his name is spelled with two Gs. The music is pleasantly simple, based on guitar riffing and strong but not showy drumming, all in solid support of Bugg’s lyricism, sung in his nasal, nocturnal tone, which really makes the album.
So at 19, Jake Bugg is cranking out hugely impressive music. The future holds a lot for him, and he has a lot of it to look forward to. 3.9/5