Jake Bugg became the apple of Absolute Radio’s eye the second he released “Lightening Bolt”. “At last!“ The station’s producers must have thought: “a suitably retro-youngster who we can bung into the rotation alongside The Black Keys to keep the retro-rock cobwebs at bay, well for one more week at least”. Jake Bugg is certainly unashamed and unafraid as he touts a knowingly regressive sound. The La’s, Dylan, Guthrie, country period Parsons…Bugg certainly has his bases covered, and his sound already seems custom built for a certain type of middle-aged-male (you know, the kind of guys who think Tame Impala are a little too weird).
Jake’s eponymous debut might be devoid of modernism, but those other important ms, motivation and momentum, are never in short supply. After “Two Fingers” crafty melody, Jake struggles to find truly irrepressibly hooks, but he’s never short of a pacey strumming patterns. His album progresses a lovely rambling pace, you can imagine Jake skipping town with his head down but his eyes open. “Simple As This” and “Country Song” are more endearing than incisive, while “Broken” attempts to raise the emotional stakes. It never quite threatens the listener with desolation, instead it stays rooted in the middle ground building to a wonderful mid-track couplet (“Run To The Lobby Where I Saw, Don’t Give A Damn For Your Reason Why”). In truth it’s all a bit Lana Del Rey, the posturing is perfect, but whether Jake has the weary heart and observant eye to match his rustic tones remains to be seen.
Part of the problem with Jake Bugg is a lack of purpose. Jake clearly has great compositional skills. He not only adopts a variety of vintage acoustic styles, but he’s given them a spritely, bigger sounding, modern wash. He doesn’t have the rallying cry issues that informed Ochs, Guthrie and Seeger’s best work, nor Dylan’s delightful wordplay, and dispassionately, he rarely tries to replicate the shrewd pop sensibilities of Ray Davies. Instead, Jake flitters in an awkward halfway house: accomplished but uninspired. He rolls out familiar troupes (“Love Is Suffering”, “Am I Crazy Or Am I Blind”, “The Truth Is In Your Heart”), which is a shame, as the idea of writing “A Note To Self” could be intriguing, but in reality, it’s really rather dull.
An overextension padded out with mediocre laments, Jake Bugg churns to a halt as it meanders towards the 14-track mark. Momentum is squandered. The strident young man who flicks two fingers to the world at the album’s outset is genuinely exciting; a troubadour marching on, mixing folk’s ramble with rock and roll pacing – but he dies a slow death. The album’s conclusion its numbing, and record as a whole: not particularly memorable. David Hayter