Album Review: Jake Bugg – Shangri La

By on Monday, 18th November 2013 at 12:00 pm

Jake Bugg Shangri La coverIt’s a bit hard to believe Jake Bugg’s second studio album ‘Shangri La’ is released today, in November 2013, even as his self-titled, 2013 Mercury Prize-nominated first album continues to make the rounds. While it might be unusual for the influences of the two records overlap, the songs seem to have developed and progressed in a very natural way, making the transition from ‘Jake Bugg’ to ‘Shangri La’ feel almost seamless.

In short, ‘Shangri La’ is not as different from ‘Jake 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 direction toward a heavier, edgier sound, but much of the album is more in the vein of Bugg’s earlier acoustic folk rock. The main musical difference between the two albums is in the song arrangements, which have branched out into added layers of electric guitar, keyboards, and percussion. Bugg’s songwriting hasn’t drastically changed, even with the influence of famed Californian producer Rick Rubin. His lyrics are still unrelentingly real, and his song structures still plainly straightforward. Opening track ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’ is a quick and dirty introduction to his typical pugnacious style, which he revisits on ‘Messed Up Kids’ and ‘Kingpin’. However, Bugg does have a few tricks up the sleeve of his leather jacket, and these are parceled out slowly over the course of the album.

The major surprises on ‘Shangri La’ come in the form of two love songs, ‘Me and You’ and ‘A Song About Love’. The larger instrumental arrangements are most effective on these tracks, and Bugg’s singing voice sounds better than it ever has, especially in such raw emotional passages as the chorus of ‘Me and You’. ‘A Song About Love’ is surely the record’s pièce de resistance, displaying a deftly written tenderness in its lyrics and a remarkably effective vocal technique, particularly from a singer not known for his emotionally effusive personality.

The general tempo on the second half of ‘Shangri La’ slows down a bit, with the sultry bass line and keyboard riffs of ‘Kitchen Table’ and the austere narrative of ‘Pine Trees’. Heavier tunes ‘All Your Reasons’ and ‘Simple Pleasures’ have a languid, minor key blues feel. True to his roots, Bugg ends the album with a pure folk ballad, ‘Storm Passes Away’, which nods to his expanded repertoire of sound by including a fuller arrangement of instruments than we previously might have heard.

The expanded sonic palette on ‘Shangri La’ adds an intensified degree of emotional depth to Bugg’s already precocious songwriting ability. Bearing in mind that he is still only 19 years old, I am inclined to forgive his determined ‘rebel without a cause’ theme if it means a chance to hear brilliant moments like ‘A Song About Love’. ‘Shangri La’ doesn’t venture as far from the pathway as it might have, but it does show the confidence and scope of an artist who has hit his stride.


Jake Bugg will be touring through the end of the year and has announced a lengthy list of live dates for 2014 as well. His upcoming UK dates in early 2014 can be found here, and a full list of live shows can be found on his official Web site.

‘Shangri La’ is available starting today from Jake Bugg Records / Virgin Records.

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2 Responses

12:01 pm
18th November 2013

New post: Carrie finds out if Jake Bugg @jakebugg comes out swinging in second album ‘Shangri La’, out today:

12:48 pm
18th November 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: Carrie finds out if Jake Bugg @jakebugg comes out swinging in second album ‘Shangri La’, out today:…

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