British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg has been spinning out songs again. His debut album, self-titled “Jake Bugg”, was released earlier this year in April to the U.S., and last October to the U.K. He released his sophomore album, “Shangri-La”, Nov. 19 to America, and Nov. 18 to the U.K.
“Shangri-La” was recorded in Malibu, Calif., with input from producer Rick Rubin.
“I met Rick [Rubin] and we were only meant to record two songs and ended up recording quite a few,” Bugg said in a documentary about Shangri-La. “When people put one or two microphones in front of you, you know, you see what happens.”
And a lot happens in “Shrangri-La”—12 songs that are sure to please his listeners.
1) “There’s a Beast and We All Feed It”- Considering Bugg’s style, I was shocked that this was the track chosen to open up the album. It has a fun beat and tune, and the lyrics–when you can beat Bugg’s thick Nottingham accent and speed–still carry a message, but not as dire and sullen as songs on the previous album. The first chords remind me of “Trouble Town.”
2) “Slumville Sunrise”- The music of “Slumville Sunrise” is enticing. The beat from the drums provided by Pete Thomas is where most of the strength of the song lies, right off the bat. But if you can actually figure out what the lyrics say, than prepare to be impressed. Bugg recaptures the scenes set by his freshman album of his home in Nottingham, of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike “Two Fingers,” the lyrics don’t sing of getting out, but more of his being stuck inside, when his “friends they just ignore me/Tell me nevermind, waiting on your line for the Slumville Sunrise.” And if the lyrics don’t do anything for you, Bugg–in true adolescent fashion–shows off his refined guitar skills in place of where a bridge might go with a guitar solo.
3) “What Doesn’t Kill You”- Prior to release of the album, “What Doesn’t Kill You” was played on the radio in the UK on Sept. 23, and later that evening performed at the Ogden Theater in Denver. It’s the third fast paced song on the album, with most of the emphasize on Bugg’s guitar playing. The video for it, also released Sept. 23, has a parental advisory warning on it, most likely for the explicit language shouted at Bugg just before the song starts and for the bleak story of a man being attacked and mugged in the first verse. In the video’s interview, Bugg said, “I said, on this album I said, I won’t talk about stuff that happens on the streets, stabbing in car parks, drinking beer. It’s funny, but in that way, you go about and you see that stuff anyway. It’s crazy. You try and escape it, and it finds you.”
If you look at the lyrics closely, you’ll find that Bugg never comes close to uttering the renowned phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
4) “Me and You”- Like the last song on “Jake Bugg”, “Fire”, “Me and You” is a heart-wrenching love song; this one is slightly sweeter and slower, though. A Bugg fan, when first hearing it, might mistake it for “Simple As This,” just in a different key. The chords are very similar, but the distinction eventually pops up with the lyrics.
5) “Messed Up Kids”- “Messed Up Kids” is a song where Bugg’s wit starts to shine through. The melody is beautiful, almost lonely and remorseful, and the lyrics remind me of a Bob Dylan or Beatles song. The song deserves full kudos because there’s no element that truly rings through here; instead it’s a nice cohesion of each of Bugg’s talents and strengths. Does it seem repetitive of any song Bugg’s sung before, lyric and story-wise? Well, yes, at least in the chorus, but that doesn’t make that song a clone of his older songs. “Messed Up Kids” still has a measure of uniqueness to it.
6) “A Song About Love”- As much as I love this song, I have to admit that the first verse and chorus come no where close to matching up melody-wise until the last two lines, when it starts transitioning into the chorus. The song is nice though. Despite the title, it really isn’t a song about love, it’s more of a “you wanted a song about love, but here’s this instead,” which was refreshing.
7) “All Your Reasons”- Bugg picks up a more bluesy sound in this piece, and with dampened guitar sounds. The emphasis is more the lyrics and drums. The transfer from verse to chorus flows well, though Bugg’s voice is a bit rough until he hits “Oh angel, angel, angel fly/to the moon,” and then the instruments die away for a short interval. And like so many of his other songs, Bugg plays another guitar solo, instead of a bridge, and once again near the end of the song.
8) “Kingpin”- I’m not the first to admit this, but this song sounds so much better live. The recorded version lacks the strength the live performances do, with bassist Tom Robinson and drummer Jack Atherton backing up the vocals. The recorded version is solely Bugg, and with Robinson and Atherton’s voices on “You’re the Kingpin,” the lyrics seem to hold a different meaning.
The guitar’s still nice, the lyrics are still great, the tempo is empowering, but “Kingpin” lacks a special something.
9) “Kitchen Table”- I wasn’t overly fond of this piece the first time listening to it, but has been growing on me. “Kitchen Table” has a Santana or Sting sound to it. There’s a lot of elements in bass and fender, which causes some confusion in the beginning until the vocals settle in and balance it out. The melody and harmonies aren’t exactly pleasant to listen to without the vocals, and there is quite of bit solely instrumental sections.
What impressed me about this song was that Bugg has abandoned the stories, the experiences of the street. “Kitchen Table” has more of an honesty that gives a bit more insight to Bugg’s personal life.
10) “Pine Trees”- Bugg’s guitar will reel you in with the first ringing notes and ensnare you in the catchy, sad, chorus: “As the crow flies straight/Holds me in his gaze/As he rises to his fate/We can do the same.” It’s a guess as to what “fate” he refers to, but the meaning gets across all the same. It’s nice to hear a song with hints about escaping responsibilities for just a bit of stolen time.
11) “Simple Pleasures”- I really liked “Simple Pleasures” because it had some entertaining and clever lines in the lyrics. The vocals and guitar and bass all grow together, which was nice to listen to, rather than Bugg yelling into the mich and having a soft bass in the background. I particularly enjoyed the lines “And you live on all you take/From the lives that have always been close/I’ve been roaming around for hours/Singing all your songs of praise.”
12) “Storm Passes Away”- this was a great song to wrap up the album with. It’s not as fast as the first songs, but it’s not a ballad. “Storm Passes Away” is catchy and easy to sing along with.
“Shangri-La”, overall, still contains that blatant honesty that “Jake Bugg” had. Bugg’s growing in popularity across many countries, but he’s sticking to the basics he learned when he was younger.