Someone must have bought Jake Bugg a Skiffle compilation and Woody Guthrie’s Best Of in the time since his first album sent the Oasis-deprived massive into lager-throwing hysterics. With new Rick Rubin produced album Shangri La – named after the Californian studio in which it was made – it’s another day, another cracking little record from the boy Bugg. Smug, smarmy, metropolitan critics might declare the album generic and derivative, but the kid undeniably has tunes – more tunes than such people have ever written even in their wildest rock star fantasies.
From second one of There’s A Beast And We All Feed It, this record is good. Damn good. Nigh on nearly a classic good. That’s pretty damn impressive for album two from a teenager. It’s just about as impressive as the first three Billy Bragg LPs; Slumville Sunrise is an anthem for council estate living, while What Doesn’t Kill You will thrill folk who believe that The Masterplan was Oasis’s greatest achievement.
Track four, Me And You, is the first ballad of the album. Here, with gentle drums and strummed acoustic, Mr Bugg gets reflective and turns his council estate anti-hero schtick to a girl he wants to make his soulmate. It’s an eye moistener and panty dropper in equal measure; the kid knows how to get the girls going. But then, on Messed Up Kids, he shows he knows how to speak for his entire disenchanted, disenfranchised, disgusted generation. Storytelling like this flows down from the font that was Bob Dylan at his best. And the Bragg comparison really works; Billy, too, has always done romance well and pulled his politics through the hedgerows of real living in the concrete funfairs of our suburban towns.
“A song about love’s not enough,” he sings on the centrepiece A Song About Love, suggesting the boy is wise beyond his years. Most people these days don’t believe in god, but listening to talents like Bugg shakes that atheism a little. Are the best songwriters just antennae for some divine inspiration? It can certainly feel like that. When Kingpin comes racing out of the tracks, your leg begins to twitch and your heart starts to jump. It’s 12am in the indie club and the dancefloor is sweat and callow sexuality. Jake’s singing your song and the world is infinite possibilities and a knee-trembler in the back alley. If you don’t like this album, maybe you’re just too old to remember that feeling. It happens.
Shangri La is the sound of a young man who doesn’t give one single toss about mortgage rates or other metropolitan concerns. What’s more, there’s not a single person who works in a national newspaper office with an expense account and free-in to parties full of other media tarts who’ll truly get this record. At 29 years of age, this reviewer is really too old to completely get the aching, the anger and the energy that Bugg channels here. Don’t let old gits tell you that Bugg isn’t special or important. They’re so wrong it hurts.