Shangri La

"I wake up/Check my phone/Jump in my whip/And off I go," Jake Bugg sings on "Kingpin." It's a song about the lush life of a drug dealer with a steelback giddyap that connects Eddie Cochran to the Smiths' "What Difference Does It Make?" And that knack for yoking today's restless energy to yesterday's jangle is what makes the 19-year-old U.K. chart-topper likable. Bugg's debut was at its best giving '62 Dylan and Buddy Holly a cocky Oasis charge, and the Bugg Man backed it up by calling fellow roots lovers Mumford & Sons "posh farmers with banjos." Dude has balls as big as Rickenbackers.

On Bugg's second album, Rick Rubin oversees an expanding sonic palette and a tougher sound; the punk-fired "What Doesn't Kill You" and grungy country rock of "All Your Reasons" push up against MacDougal Street serenades like "Pine Trees," an alienated epistle that could've been cut in a winter cabin. At times his folkier moments can be a touch too comfy. He's best when he pushes at the confines of his throwback sound: "Kitchen Table" stretches out with soul-jazz keyboard tickle and real-life post-breakup lyrics that don't try to play the London tough guy or woodsy troubadour: "I've not been seeing you for some time now and still you choose to hold my hate/But after how I handled it you're hardly to blame." It's just a 19-year-old kid, being honest.

From The Archives Issue 1196: November 21, 2013
x