JAKE Bugg is confident and talented, with plenty of big-name fans, but though his debut shows real potential, he’s still searching for his own voice
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg
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The number of young men and women with acoustic guitars featured during the recent X Factor auditions suggests that even this most conservative of light entertainment environments is turning away from processed, anonymous dance pop and wannabe divas towards the more instant personal connection which can be forged between a singer/songwriter and an audience. It was ever thus, but successive generations need their own mouthpiece minstrels with which to identify.
Jake Bugg, a diffident-looking 18-year-old with a mod haircut and smart casual Fred Perry style, doesn’t subscribe to all that TV talent show guff – like any image-conscious adolescent, he cares too much about credibility – but he is shaping up nicely as the teen troubadour most likely to appeal to his peers and, given his classic taste in music, possibly their dads too.
His hero Noel Gallagher has already bestowed the blessing of a support slot on his High Flying Birds tour. Other famous fans include Damon Albarn, Jack White and Sir Elton John, who is never slow to jump on a happening new artist’s bandwagon. Bugg has already passed such bright-young-thing markers as the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury and the obligatory Later with Jools appearance, and is gathering such momentum that he is already selling out his 2013 tour before he has even played this year’s dates. You can hear his commentary on this trajectory on skiffly single Lightning Bolt, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy when it was used to soundtrack coverage of Usain Bolt’s 100-metre dash at the Olympics.
Bugg grew up in Nottingham on Europe’s largest council estate and has been playing and writing since his early teens. His unlikely epiphany was hearing Vincent by Don McLean on The Simpsons. From that moment, football took a back seat to music, and Bugg hoovered up the likes of Hendrix, The Beatles and Donovan, before delving back further to the blues pioneers. Perhaps oddly, Bob Dylan, the troubadour’s troubadour, has not been much of a touchstone for him so far, but he’s looking into it.
His own voice does seem to emanate from another time – but that might just be the sepia effect of this artfully lo-fi, echoey recording. Bugg has often been described as an old soul, and has even called himself a “30-year-old in a teenager’s body”, but there is youthful brio in his delivery which blasts the milksop likes of Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard out the water. He gets himself off to a good start with this debut album, rattling through 14 songs in 40 minutes, some of which barely brush the two-minute mark.
There is certainly a heritage aspect to his simple, direct songs, principally arranged for guitar and voice, but sometimes souped up with rhythm section or sighing strings, which is reminiscent of fellow 1960s fanatics such as Miles Kane and The Coral. But he is specific enough in the lyrics to anchor his songs in his own background, coming across like a more callow Alex Turner as he sings about being “stuck in speedbump city where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out” on Trouble Town and declares “I hold two fingers up to yesterday … I got out, I got out, I’m alive and I’m here to stay” on Two Fingers.
He counters this questing restlessness with the easy pastoral contentment of Simple As This (“tried absolution of the mind and soul … the answer, how could I miss something as simple as this”) and distils a little Simon & Garfunkel spirit in the tender, lyrical picking and sweet melancholy of Country Song, achieving an emotional resonance that Mumford & Sons cannot convey with any amount of banjo bluster.
Bugg also exposes his romantic soul on the charming but rather middle-aged likes of Broken and Someplace, which are among the more lavishly arranged numbers on the album, and takes his time to unfold the cautionary Ballad Of Mr Jones and the lush pop reverie of Slide.
Closing track Fire is the most bare and lo-fi number of the lot. Given its bluesy field-recording rawness, it’s surprising to be reminded at this point of Paolo Nutini, another precocious teen who was old beyond his years.
Nutini didn’t really come into his own until he got the chance to truly reflect his musical tastes on his second album. Bugg, on the other hand, appears to have debuted with the album he wanted to make. He is not quite the urban poet yet but there is potential, and that is what Jake Bugg captures – not the staggering advent of a fully-fledged talent but a hopeful intimation of greater things to come.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east