“Bugg’s voice, twinned with a guitar, packs enough emotional punch to transcend the genre’s restrictive conventions…”
Jake Bugg | Jake Bugg
“There’s a tower block overhead, all you’ve got’s your benefits and you’re barely scraping by,” struts Jake Bugg. Similarly to the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, his songs lend a poetic flavour to tales of drunken, fight-filled, pill-popping nights on the town and the trials and strife associated with being brought up on a council estate.
It’s easy to see how Bugg’s anti-authority songs of hope and despair might be received as the perfect antidote to the callous, out-of-touch and austerity-infatuated coalition government by today’s army of underemployed young people.
Looking barely old enough to sit his GCSEs, Bugg first sprang to nationwide attention with an outstanding three-song salvo on Jools Holland earlier this year. He nimbly finger-picked his way through reflective lament Country Song, then led his warmly boisterous, retro-sounding band through rollicking versions of Trouble Town and Lightning Bolt. All three are included on this self-titled debut.
Given that he writes and sings songs and occasionally blows into a harmonica, Bugg has inevitably been tagged as a “new Dylan”. No doubt Bob is one of his formative influences, but the youngster confesses he’s only ever heard one of the great man’s records. He arguably draws more heavily on UK indie heritage. There are close parallels with the Merseybeat sound of The La’s and The Coral.
The interesting question is why, when there are hundreds of young men impersonating Dylan, Neil Young, Nick Drake et al out there, it is this one’s star that has ascended so swiftly.
Regardless of whether his success may partly owe to shrewd record company marketing, much of the answer surely lies in Bugg being one of those lucky souls whose voice, twinned with a guitar, packs enough emotional punch to transcend the genre’s restrictive conventions.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of song here: upbeat, hook-laden pop songs (Lightning Bolt, Two Fingers) and gorgeous, heart-wrenching acoustic strums (Someone Told Me, Note to Self, Simple As This). What really grabs the listener’s attention, more than his songwriting knack, is Bugg’s plaintive, wistful and wise-beyond-his years voice.
Lyrically he treads a very well-worn path deftly, pining rhythmically on Trouble Town for an escape from his native Nottingham and onto better things: “Stuck in speed bump city where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out”.
Courtesy of his startlingly accomplished songs, Bugg has been able to make good his escape at breakneck speed. He’s already selling out 2,000-capacity venues and this 14-track LP has rocketed straight to number one in the UK. “It’s my job to keep that X Factor shit off the top of the charts,” was his reaction.
He is by no means the finished article: one or two of the skiffle riffs feel a bit formulaic, and there’s the odd moment where Bugg even strays alarmingly close to sounding like Britpop luminaries Cast. Some of the lyrics are inevitably narrow in focus, too.
On the whole, though, as a first instalment this will do just fine. Provided he continues to expand his horizons, there would appear to be few limits to what this precocious teenager can achieve.