Shangri La Album Review
Mercury (U.K), Island (U.S) Records
Released November 18, 2013
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Country, Blues Rock
There are a lot of expectations put on an artist after a debut album so cohesive, raw, and impressive as Jake Bugg’s eponymous debut. Many critics compare him to great musicians like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, the “long lost Gallagher” brother, or even Don McLean. But comparisons shouldn’t be taken into consideration, for Jake Bugg has even refuted the fact that he probably is the new “Bob Dylan” in an interview with The Telegraph:”Bob Dylan’s cool, you know, he’s great, but he’s not a major influence.”
This is a very peculiar observation noting they both share a strong nasally voice, strapped guitars, and similar musical styles. Aside from the critique, Bugg has busied himself by dating supermodels to slamming One Direction’s music to being nominated for the Mercury Prize, and with Shangri La, he isn’t stopping even at his young age of just 19.
Nottingham singer/songwriter Jake Bugg returns with his second full length LP fresh off of the success of his remarkable eponymous debut. Here on Shangri La, we find Bugg at the point of an artistic revolution as the raw and genuine beauty of his folk predecessor is replaced with brisk and rough indie rock tunes and more refined production from the legendary Rick Rubin.
The album opens up with three very fast and abrasive tracks that sound like something Alex Turner would create. However, I feel that the artistic shift doesn’t quite pull off. Aside from the astounding musicianship, Bugg’s slurred vocal delivery and very stagnant lyrical themes don’t really handle the expectations this album had coming for it. He pays off later on with tracks like “Kingpin” where a bluesy rock style comes in and with aspiring lyrics about drugs, Bugg finally has a grasp of the sound and style .
However, Bugg returns to his musical roots with his gentle folk tunes later on the album. From the beautiful ballad “Me & You” to the gentle glide of “A Song About Love” to the raw intimacy of “Pine Trees,” Bugg fully shows that this sound is his own.
In addition to these sentimental tracks, Bugg carries on with his bluesy sound with the tracks “All Your Reasons,” “Kitchen Table,” and “Simple Pleasures”, where simple riffs and instrumentation keep these long tracks interesting and further show Bugg’s superb musical abilities. And just as “Fire” did with his debut, Bugg closes the album off with the vintage tinted “Storm Passes Away”, a great closer to an album by an artist who keeps showing his musical influences through his music, and it works well as if this sound was destined for him making the “new Bob Dylan” comparisons almost prophetic.
Vocally, Bugg shows improvement with his range and dynamic. On his debut, his vocals, although really impressive, did sound a bit rusty, strained, and forced. Here he delivers a smoother, melodic, and higher delivery in terms of pitch and volume. The instrumentation on the album still is the same old set up from his debut: guitar, bass, and drums. But with the more refined production, the tiny details are brought out more making each pluck of the guitar, crash of the cymbal and groove of the bass worth the effort.
Sadly Bugg’s ambition to shift in his music doesn’t quite pay off as his upbeat rock tunes don’t really fit cohesively with his style, and although the production is more refined and lush, Bugg doesn’t really get on top of the rhythms but merely hitches onto it, showing almost no artistic intimacy, control, or dominance. Without it, the passion and grace aren’t present, and the album becomes somewhat of an underwhelming experience.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a bad album. It’s quite impressive, to be quite honest. But with the talent, passion, and devotion that Bugg has shown over the past year, I feel that this album could be much more audacious than it really is. But Bugg is still growing, and if Shangri La is a step towards greatness, then this is a solid foundation and place to start. So keep going Bugg, because now the whole world is eagerly watching and waiting.
FAV TRACKS: Me & You, Messed Up Kids, A Song About Love, Kingpin, Kitchen Table, Simple Pleasures
LEAST FAV TRACKS: There’s A Beast And We All Feed It, What Doesn’t Kill You