Release Date: Apr 9, 2013
Record label: Mercury
Jake Bugg is a 19-year-old from a Nottingham housing project whose self-titled debut topped the U.K. pop charts late last year, somewhat astonishingly, with songs that seem steeped in The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The "Chirping" Crickets and A Date With the Everly Brothers. Alongside Mumford & Sons, Frank Turner and other back-to-basics Brits, Bugg is making artisanal folk rock with Whole Foods-scale ambition.
There’s a great story about Jake Bugg that illustrates just how different he is from your average British teenager. Shortly after playing his first gig (not in some fauxhemian east London snakepit, but at his high school in Nottingham), Bugg’s friends, suitably impressed, implored him to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. In their defence, it’s no stretch to imagine Amanda Holden violently weeping all the fluid out of her body to the strains of ‘Country Song’ or ‘Someone Told Me’, but Bugg was having none of it.
For a newcomer, British singer-songwriter Jake Bugg fires insults at his enemies like a wily veteran. But when you have the songs and fans (including the notoriously prickly Noel Gallagher) to back it up, there’s not much your adversaries can do. With a twangy, piercing voice that’s a cross between Freewheelin’ Dylan and the Cash who conquered Folsom, the 19-year-old’s sound combines retro folk with elements of Britpop that’s as raw as it is original, which equals one of the more exciting debuts in some time.
The “new Dylan” designation is as trodden and well-known now as the “wunderkind” label thrown at any tuneful musician under the age of 20. In Jake Bugg, the two cliched descriptors come together and hold some weight lost from previous overuse. They could still use some qualification, but the new talent from Britain possesses a folksy talent and ear for catchy melodies which suggest an awareness of what’s made music new and exciting for every decade since rock ‘n’ roll first hit the airwaves.
Nottingham teenager Jake Bugg is already getting grizzled nods of approval from rock musicians of a certain age. His debut wears its retro fetishes on a frayed sleeve; Simple As This has an unashamedly Dylan-like jingle-jangle; the age-worn lament of Country Song could hardly be mistaken for anything else. But Bugg is no young fogey; he has a warm, wistful voice and keen observational eye, pitching his songs beautifully between youth and experience.
As far as debut albums go, this eponymous release is a surprisingly accomplished effort from the Nottingham-born teenager Jake Bugg. Although he stares out from the album cover like a younger, long-lost cousin of the View or the Enemy, while those U.K. indie acts found their nourishment on a diet of the Jam, Oasis, and the Strokes, Bugg found time to explore pre-Beatles music from the likes of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens.
Jake Bugg sounds like he could be a box-ticking exercise for a cynical major label: Hey! We need us one of those acoustic types that are doing so well – but let's get one who'll appeal to the kids who like the View more than Ed Sheeran! So here's a young man singing about necking pills in car parks and stabbings at parties to a backing that alternates between beaty pop reminiscent of the La's and acoustic fingerpicking, the link being his nasal voice, uncannily reminiscent of La's leader Lee Mavers. He's not quite there yet – his slice-of-life lyrics tend to the over-literal, and once he's hit on a stirring riff, as on the single, Lightning Bolt, he seems to feel the job is done. But there's an attractive openness to the album, with no sense of contrivance: he's singing about what he knows.
"Lightning Bolt" serves as an apt opener for Jake Bugg's eponymous debut LP, which has already garnered the UK 18-year-old wide acclaim. Its raw electric garage folk sparks a refreshing energy and authenticity that carries into the reckless lilt and stomp of "Two Fingers" and "Taste It," and the winding youthful delinquency of "Seen It All. " Bugg's gritty twang recalls the Tallest Man on Earth, especially on tenderer turns like "Simple as This," "Country Song," and "Broken.
Ubiquity may beckon for this rising Nottingham singer-songwriter. Chris Roberts 2012 Aged just 18, Nottingham lad Jake Bugg has supported Noel Gallagher and The Stone Roses, soundtracked a beer advert and appeared on Later… with Jools Holland. Nothing seems to unnerve him, and while it’s a while since a singer-songwriter’s debut was so feverishly anticipated, he has such momentum that there seems little chance of anybody daring to initiate a backlash yet.