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Rising britrock strummer battles to escape shadow of his influences
Ed Power, 22 Oct 2012
Never underestimate British music’s yearning for the comfort food of nostalgia. Oasis may be no more, Britpop a dimming memory but Noel Gallagher is still playing stadia and Blur will, it seems, be back, packing arenas, next summer. The year’s biggest live music event? The Roses reunion, of course.
So it’s as good a time as any for Jake Bugg to stake his claim. Nineteen and from Nottingham, he arrives steeped in English music folklore – with a fair bit of Dylan in there too. Signed less than six months ago, his debut arrives backed by a significant buzz. He’s already appeared on Later… With Jools Holland, was part of the Britpack flown over to Dublin for Arthur’s Day and supported The Killers at the London iTunes festival. You suspect his really big break will arrive next month when he goes on the road with Noel Gallagher, who, along with brother Liam, is on record as a fan (other celebrity cheerleaders include Jimmy Page and Primal Scream).
The fuss is understandable. Delivered in a Dylan-esque whine, opener ‘Lightning Bolt’ is jittery and whipsmart, rattling past in an efficient two and a half minutes. Next comes the sound of Bugg getting his Beatles on in unashamed fashion – or should that be gets his Oasis borrowing from The Beatles on? – in the form of the catchy single ‘Two Fingers’, a rakish paean to the joys of getting mildly off your face at the end of a rubbish day.
Riffing on Led Zeppelin’s transatlantic blues, on ‘Trouble Town’ he sings of his desire to claw his way out of Nottingham, though ironically the song succeeds admirably in romanticising the midlands town as sort of quasi-mythic shit-hole. There’s a rootsy cast, too, to ‘Taste It’, with its twanging riff; ‘Note To Self’ is probably the one moment on the record where his claim to have been influenced by ‘60s acoustic pixie Donovan is properly evident; and ‘Someplace’ sees him embracing the part of world’s saddest rockabilly crooner.
Bugg grew up on a council estate – the ‘Clifton’ he references in ‘Two Fingers’ – and, judging by his lyrics, seems to have had a typically dissolute youth, revolving around beer, drugs and chasing girls. These are the topics he returns to again and again, and – in part, at least, as a result – the record crackles with the energy of a footloose adolescence. That energy notwithstanding, however, there is no suggestion that Bugg is about to redesign the wheel to sleeker effect. In his photoshoots he poses in a Fred Perry top, his hair cropped and tousled mod style, an image which sums up just how far he has yet to travel to if he is to rank as a true original. For all its catchiness, Jake Bugg is the work of a singer still in thrall to his idols and content for the most part to stay within that zone of relative safety.