Jake Bugg beginnt mit einem Rockabilly-Stück, das keine zwei Minuten lang ist. Mit „What Doesn’t Kill You“ wildert er im Rabaukenrevier der Arctic Monkeys. Wesentlich besonnener geht es dagegen in „Me And You“ zu, hier werden mit The Coral andere Helden der jüngeren musikalischen Vergangenheit ausgekundschaftet.
Wenn man das alles so hört, fragt man sich allerdings, warum wegen dieses Bübchens alle in so helle Aufregung geraten. Gut, Jake Bugg beherrscht den Umgang mit dem guten alten Handwerk der Musikgeschichte und sucht alle möglichen Anknüpfungspunkte. Aber er fügt dem nichts hinzu, wie es zum Beispiel MGMT gerade mit ihrem Album getan haben. Jake Bugg bleibt in der Rolle des kompetenten Plagiators stecken. Und er ist zu rastlos. Alles rauscht auf SHANGRI LA vorüber, einen Song von besonderer Qualität sucht man vergebens. Für die oft bedenklich plärrende und quäkende Stimme des Sängers aus Nottingham gibt es auch nicht unbedingt einen Eintrag auf der Pluspunktseite. Jake Bugg ist ein sicheres Indiz dafür, dass Versuche der Wiederbelebung der Musik von früher heute wie ein Akt der Verzweiflung erscheinen. Ist ja auch logisch. 1965 ist bald 50 Jahre her.
Seen It All genuinely sounded like a teenager talking about seeing another teenager stabbed. You understand why Bugg wants to revisit the topic, but it's equally understandable why – after two years enjoying the fruits of stardom, complete with front-row seats at London Fashion Week and a spell squiring supermodel Cara Delevingne – the vignettes aren't as sharply drawn this time around. With Bugg self-consciously addressing a vast audience, the listener ends up faced with windy platitudes reminiscent of the golden wisdom of Richard Ashcroft – "it's a cold world"; "there's a lot of pain out there" – the charming gaucheness inflated into the kind of plonking portentousness that became Noel Gallagher's signature style around Be Here Now. "With your eyes should you cry in your bed?" ponders A Song About Love, a question posed in such a way that it raises a question in turn: well, what else do you suggest crying with? Your armpit? Your bumhole? Messed Up Kids, meanwhile, attempts to conjure up an urban wasteland via the line, "The sky is pastel shades under breeze-block palisades." This clearly fancies itself as a striking poetic image: it's certainly striking, in as far as it doesn't make any sense. As you doubtless know – but Jake Bugg may not – a palisade is a kind of fence or wall. It's thus extremely hard to see how the sky, pastel-shaded or otherwise, can be underneath one, unless the song's narrator is standing on his head. This seems a deeply odd thing to be doing when you're hanging out with the messed-up kids on the corner selling their drugs and their bodies, but who knows what passes for cheap thrills among the feral youth of Broken Britain?
That said, there are reasons to like Shangri-La, not least the ballads, which are hushed, delicate, graced with vocal performances on which Bugg dials down his tendency to nasal mannerisms and, in the case of Me and You, and Pine Trees, possessed of melodies every bit as lovely as that of Broken. Elsewhere, Shangri-La bears out Bugg's insistence that he's "just a lad who writes tunes" a little too clearly: it sounds as ordinary as he claims to be.
Rubin is not to everyone's taste as a producer – there are issues with his fondness for excessive compression and loudness – but he's perfect for Bugg. The sort of naked focus that he applied to Johnny Cash works beautifully on the spiky protest skiffle of songs like "There's a Beast and We All Feed It" and "Slumville Sunrise", the former featuring fast, scuttling patter in the manner of "Subterranean Homesick Blues", the latter just one of several songs about escaping restrictions of circumstance and expectation.
The album's split between folk-rockers like "Messed Up Kids", a no-future tableau that's like Bugg's earlier "Seen It All", but from a more poetic viewpoint ("It's a washed-out Saturday, a sky of pastel shades, under breeze-block palisades"), and surlier electric rockers such as the loner anthem "What Doesn't Kill You", driven by brusque punk chording. But whichever mode he works in, Bugg's tenor cuts straight to the quick, whether snarling through the galloping rocker "Kingpin" or regretful about the unavoidable erosion of a relationship in "Kitchen Table", over electric piano and guitar lines in melancholy collusion.
As the strident "Storm Passes Away" brings the album to a close, it's hard not to notice the echoes of Woody Guthrie, both in the forthright, ringing vocal tone, and in the apparent ease with which Bugg conjures up evocative and enduring images to express the condition of the common man – a worthy task for such an uncommon talent.