Single Review: Jake Bugg – What Doesn’t Kill You

By on Thursday, 3rd October 2013 at 12:00 pm

Jake Bugg’s first album, ‘Jake Bugg’ (reviewed by me here) was hailed as a fresh take on folk-rock; its combination of tenacity and musical sensitivity took listeners by surprise, especially from someone so young. With ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, Bugg upends his punk-folk image with a foray into heavy guitar rock, using brash electric guitar effects and a bolder, harsher singing tone to make a direct statement of musical intent.

In the introduction to the stark black and white video accompanying the song, Bugg talks about trying to avoid gritty subjects in writing his second album, but in the end, he says he was unable to escape those tough influences and experiences. Thematically, the song deals with what Bugg calls “smaller subjects”, witnessing the mugging of a friend and being left by a lover. Musically, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is as about as straightforward as they come, electric guitar banging out power chords over pounding drums as Bugg snarls through his fast-paced verses. But the lyrics in the chorus provide an interesting twist. The opening line, “What doesn’t kill you…” never completes the idea with the expected “…makes you stronger.” Instead it crashes right into the next thought, “sometimes you feel you’re up against the world”, then, “this life, it seems, can bring you to your knees”, and, “you try, you bleed, then finally you breathe”. The song ends abruptly on this final lyric, as Bugg’s intention becomes fruition.

The video for ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ features Bugg and his sullen punk demeanor in stereotypical rock fashion: black leather jacket, nothing in the shot with him but his guitar and amplifier. While the forceful, hard-edged electric sound comes as a welcome surprise, Bugg’s singing voice isn’t quite as well suited to heavy rock as it is to his previous alt-folk tunes. His nasal tone, which blended with the warmth of his acoustic sound, comes across as a bit whiny as he competes with the volume of the guitar and drums. But Bugg’s music has never been about purely pretty singing, and his tone here goes right along with the less-than-subtle shift in his style. I might personally prefer his folkier debut album, but this change in direction will keep interest piqued among erstwhile fans in the UK and American fans who are still discovering Jake Bugg.


Jake Bugg’s second album ‘Shangri-La’ will be released on 18 November on Jake Bugg Records / Virgin. First single ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ is available now; the accompanying video can be viewed below. Bugg heads out on an UK tour in mid-October but sorry folks, it’s entirely sold out now, including three huge London Brixton Academy shows.


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3 Responses

12:02 pm
3rd October 2013

New post: Jake Bugg @jakebugg’s latest single ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, ahead of new LP ‘Shangri La’ out in November:

12:35 pm
3rd October 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: Jake Bugg @jakebugg’s latest single ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, ahead of new LP ‘Shangri La’ out in November:…

[…] Bugg’ as I initially expected it to be. The first two singles, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’ (reviewed here) and ‘Slumville Sunrise’ (watch the video here), seemed to mark a striking change in […]

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