If you haven’t already heard about Jake Bugg, you soon will do – and not just because you’re reading this. He’s the new darling of the British indie circle. Everyone from NME to Xfm, and the BBC to Spotify has been queuing up for a piece of him.
And here’s the really odd thing: this self-titled debut album actually made it to No. 1 in the chart. He greeted the news by saying: “I’m keeping that X Factor shit off the top spot”, surely striking a chord (if you’ll excuse the guitar-based pun) with a lot people who probably pay no heed to the chart. There has been a slight chart resurgence for alternative/indie acts recently – in bagging pole position, he joined the likes of The Vaccines, The xx and Muse.
Undoubtedly, he has helped himself by making some catchy, accessible-to-the-masses songs. You can only hope that it’ll help turn some of those masses away from the dark side.
There will be those who label Bugg too derivative, as his influences are so clear that they might as well be name-checked. Unlike those behind that ‘X factor shit’ though, he has good influences and his own influences –and he’s not making covers. They’ve simply shaped the act he has become.
He’s obviously a big Bob Dylan fan. ‘Simple As This’, ‘Trouble Town’ and ‘Country Song’ are particularly reminiscent of the great Bob. You can hear it in the rhythm of the songs, and even in his voice at times. If anything though, he leans more towards country folk in his arrangements and lyrics. The title ‘Ballad of Mr Jones’ is an obvious nod to Dylan’s ‘Ballad of A Thin Man’, but the way he weaves his story of justice not done has more in common with country music. And tracks like ‘Someone Told Me’ twang with the sound of bluegrass.
Many of the songs are mournful numbers, but he shows a good deal of versatility – and originality. ‘Two Fingers’ is probably one of the first songs to reference Clifton, the area of Nottingham he grew up in, and once Europe’s largest council estate. Having driven through it a few times, I can relate to the lyrics ‘I got out, I got out, I’m alive and I’m here to stay’.
‘Seen It All’, a tale of a house party gone wrong in one of the UK’s crime hotspots, wasn’t written by the Nottingham Tourist Board either: ‘I could sense the mounting tension, the atmosphere of violence/And then they took a guy outside and someone stabbed him with a knife’. Here Bugg brings to mind Miles Kane, as he often does during the course of the album.
One comparison I didn’t see myself making was Buddy Holly. But his name popped into my head as I soon as I heard ‘Fire’, a simple closer that proves just how far Bugg looks back into music’s past.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with him sounding a bit, or even a lot, like other people. For me, the most important thing is that this is a quality album, with plenty of variety. Anybody can imitate, but not everyone can fuse their influences to create something that’s not only worth a listen, but is also quite fresh.
You’ll definitely be hearing more from Jake Bugg.