As far as debut albums go, this eponymous release is a surprisingly accomplished effort from the Nottingham-born teenager Jake Bugg. Although he stares out from the album cover like a younger, long-lost cousin of the View or the Enemy, while those U.K. indie acts found their nourishment on a diet of the Jam, Oasis, and the Strokes, Bugg found time ...
As far as debut albums go, this eponymous release is a surprisingly accomplished effort from the Nottingham-born teenager Jake Bugg. Although he stares out from the album cover like a younger, long-lost cousin of the View or the Enemy, while those U.K. indie acts found their nourishment on a diet of the Jam, Oasis, and the Strokes, Bugg found time to explore pre-Beatles music from the likes of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. These influences -- combined with a folk sensibility and moments of delicate acoustic fingerpicking that betray a love for Bob Dylan and Donovan -- make for an accessible, pop-focused record that doesn't attempt to chase innovation. Much of the material here was co-written, produced, and mixed by Snow Patrol and Reindeer Section collaborator Iain Archer. When Bugg and Archer combine on "Taste It" and "Trouble Town" -- two of the album's stronger, more raucous tracks -- it's as if you're hearing what the La's would have sounded like if John Power had been their dominant force, as opposed to Lee Mavers. It's the intro to "Taste It" in particular that apes "Feelin'" -- the Liverpudlians' final single -- while "Trouble Town" comes across as a rewrite of their cautionary "Doledrum" with its skiffle-fueled tales of unemployment benefits and missed payments. The comparatively positive and sprightly opener "Lightning Bolt" didn't do Bugg any harm when it was featured just prior to the BBC's live coverage of Usain Bolt's Olympic 100m victory and was heard by a U.K. audience of 20 million people. Built around a three-chord shuffle and a bridge that Noel Gallagher would be proud of, it's another example of a Bugg/Archer gem. While it's the analog-sounding upbeat tracks such as these that impress, it's the mid-paced, digitally polished ballads and resultant formulaic pacing that underwhelm. It's safe to say that those searching for experimental music should most definitely look elsewhere. "Broken" -- co-written with former Longpigs frontman Crispin Hunt -- takes Bugg into broad, "X-Factor does indie" territory, while "Country Song" tiptoes between James Blunt's vocal quirks and John Denver's suffocating pleasantry. Inoffensive and clean-cut as they are, both tracks signify a mid-album lull and sit awkwardly on a record that is littered with overt drug references and imagery from the street. To his credit, Bugg's too young by far to be a drug bore, and when he takes "a pill or maybe two" in "Seen It All" or is "high on a hash pipe of good intent" in "Simple as This," it feels like social documentation rather than a misguided attempt at glamorizing their use. Elsewhere, Clifton -- the south Nottingham village that Bugg calls home -- gets what is possibly its first mention in song on the irresistible, Hollies-inspired "Two Fingers." All in all, though Bugg's debut may not share the wordy precociousness of Conor Oberst's formative steps or the political astuteness of Willy Mason on Where the Humans Eat, it's his sheer earnestness and rare gift for writing simple, hook-filled tunes that ultimately charm the listener. ~ James Wilkinson, Rovi