To the casual observer Jake Bugg has become an overnight sensation. Sweeping to the top of the album charts on a wave of celebrity endorsements and X Factor backlash, the singer has bugg-ered (sorry, couldn’t resist) up Simon Cowell’s X Factor domination and held Leona Lewis back from what must have seemed like a guaranteed number one. This, following the bloodied nose doled out by last Christmas’s Rage Against the Machine number one, may indicate that the tide is turning, and England has had its fill of Cowell’s vapidly cynical product. Of course, Bugg is himself signed to music industry behemoth Universal (via subsidery Mercury) and any album marketed – with a vast budget mind- as ‘real’ by a major label is on potentially sticky ground. As a result I approached Bugg’s debut with caution, but was surprised to find something quite different to the Ed Sheehan blandness or Brit School folk I expected.
A teenager from a Northern estate, Bugg takes the themes of modern urban living that inform so much current hip hop and squeezes them through his influences, coming out with a sound that’s part pre-electric Dylan, part dour Richard Ashcroft wit and part nasal Devandra Banhart sounding whimsy.
Right from the opener, recent single Lightning Bolt, Bugg shows a command of lyricism and songwriting that belies his years. Songs dealing with E’s, stabbings, benefits, tower blocks, teenage love and hash pipes are thrown out effortlessly, and whilst only a 19 year old would be arrogant enough to sing ‘I’ve seen it all’ as Bugg does on the track of the same name, he has the charisma to carry it off.
After a high paced opening half the album, the album winds itself down, starting with the touching love song As Simple As This, until 2 tracks later Bugg keens the Lana Del Rey style break up melodies of Broken. The dynamic of the album is deeply satisfying; using a basic acoustic guitar and a lick of harmonica and banjo here and there, Bugg conveys a breadth of emotion with a minimal amount of production trickery. This debut is a very human, very personal work, and as such it connects on a fairly universal level.
It may be that Bugg’s nasal vocal isn’t for everyone ,and I found myself wishing that he’d let his own accent take up more space than his, admittedly strong, Dylan impersonation. With his lyrics dealing with such small town English themes, a bit more small town English timbre would have been appreciated. Still, gripe aside this is a great, mature debut, and if this is the album to break the strangulation reality TV has had over our music scene for nearly a decade, then all the better. Well worth the hype. 8/10