It seems cruel to consign Jake Bugg to the indie scrap heap so early into his career. The fact that his debut received such commercial and critical acclaim is almost a testament to the garbled, hilarious mess that was Shangri-La, with it’s benign, bland guitar passages and horribly strained vocal lines. Bug admits himself that “On My One” is a make or break album, and as far as I can see he isn’t likely to bounce back from this.
Title track and opening song “On My One” opens with a sombre guitar tone, drenched in melancholy twanging atmosphere. Lyrically it’s rather twee, and also blatantly about 5 years out of date. Jake Bugg is many things but “A poor boy from Nottingham” is something he hasn’t been for quite some time. Either way, the genuine emotion and tonal consistency make this one of the more bearable, if slightly forgettable, songs on the album. The following track is what I imagine would have happened if “XTRMNTR” era Primal Scream had collaborated with Vanilla Ice. “Gimme The Love” sees Bugg awkwardly rapping banal lyrics over a blatantly generic indie rock riff, as well as spring boarding away from the fairly appropriate tone of “On My One” into territories he’s clearly not familiar with.
The bluesy fuzzed out guitar riff of “Love, Hope and Misery” feels like Bugg is taking cues from the ridiculously dramatic Last Shadow Puppets album. Over arranged and totally out of character for both Bugg and the album. The chorus is fairly catchy if nothing else. The only song that manages to recapture the melancholia of the title track is “Never Wanna Dance”, however Bugg is once again straining his voice to limits it was clearly never designed to push. The line, “And if suddenly you leave, I will understand, ‘cause you don’t need a guy like me, who never wants to dance” is genuine and extremely evocative however, an insight into the kind of poetry Bugg is capable of when he’s not rapping about how mental his nights out in Nottingham used to be.
“Ain’t No Rhyme” is a shambles. Skip it if you want to leave this album with your respect for Bugg intact. “All That” is quite probably the highlight of the album. The simplistic heart-wrenching vocals, that are actually in Buggs range for once, coupled with the descriptive lyrics are the aspects of Buggs work that could revive his career and regain him the critical acclaim he once had.
Overall this album doesn’t know whether it wants to be a sorrowful indie-folk album about crushed dreams or an acid rock infused hip hop album. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, leaves it feeling unfocused, confused and schizophrenic. However, Bugg proves in a number of places that he’s more than capable of being a truly expressive lyricist, and that gives me hope for his future. I would recommend you stream this album and skip his Beastie Boys impressions.