Jake Bugg’s fifth album, and first in four years, is perhaps his most important. Get it right and his career gets reinvigorated in the shadows of other acoustic singer-songwriters in the UK charts at the moment. Get it wrong, and he’s in the wilderness for good.
Can you believe that it’s been nine years since Jake Bugg burst onto the scene with ‘Lightning Bolt’? While I bemoan the fact that 2012 is no longer “a couple of years ago”, maybe we should also be wary that he’s never hit those heights since. His follow-up albums have slowly dropped down the charts, and aside for one absolute banger in 2016’s ‘Gimme The Love’, I can’t really argue against it being justified. I’ve tried desperately to listen to ‘On My One’ and ‘Hearts That Strain’, but I find myself both bored and sick of their wallowing.
In truth, I only remembered his existence with his appearance on CamelPhat’s very un-Jake Bugg-like banger ‘Be Someone’ in summer 2019. While some disparaging long-term fans accused him of selling out, they may have overlooked the fact that he’s actually the principal writer of the track. It attracted attention from more than just dance fans too, with the song receiving extensive radio play. A shrewd business move? This led to the first few singles from this album, originally set to come out in 2020.
‘Kiss Like The Sun’ is a fun, upbeat track with a matching music video depicting a pub brawl through visual effects. It might be my favourite Bugg song, closely rivalled by the second single, ‘Rabbit Hole’. This is another earworm, which opens with a solemn guitar riff before raising into a sing-along chorus. On SNSM he seems to have found a brilliant niche between the deep, internal songwriter and radio-friendly indie rock, and this song is the zenith of it. On the album, it leads into ‘Lost’, which is another low-key but banging tune. Musically it feels he has taken a lot of inspiration from dance music with the structure of the track, the beat and the arrangement. It never really reaches a peak where you want to jump around, but it manages to capture his sadness and loneliness without descending into a pity party and is pretty damn catchy.
If any song from this album did anything to raise his profile, it’s ‘All I Need’, which became the sound of All4’s entertainment adverts. Again, it’s closer to EDM than the vast majority of indie rock you’ll find, but it’s a brilliant fusion of the two and it fits Bugg’s writing style really well. If there’s one track which reaches into rock more than the others, it’s the searing ‘Lonely Hours’, which is by far the best of the new songs which came out last Friday. This is a song you can imagine being used as a warm-up track or in a sports compilation. It’s absolutely fantastic. ‘Maybe It’s Today’ is the other stand-out for me, which definitely has 1960s pop music as inspiration for it’s synths and melodies. It’s beat is very reminiscent of ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King – but manages to use it to create a beautiful sound around it.
If you’d told me two years ago I would be jamming to a Jake Bugg album, I would have been very surprised. There’s enough good songs here to allow the odd misfire, and enough earworms to keep you singing for days. If there is any justice in the world, this will return him to the public eye, even if it’s only enough to convince him his sixth LP can continue down this path and bring him success.
Ryan’s Rating: 7/10