Shangri La is the second album to emerge from that incestuous love child of Liam and Noel Gallagher: Jake Bugg; a man who seems determined to add to the festering pool of mediocrity that Oasis have left behind. Ultimately he succeeds, I suppose. But proving yourself as dynamic and inventive as latter-day Oasis is like proving you have as many brain cells as Joey Essex. Or proving you’re as good a rapper as X Factor winner James Arthur.
The album is as pretty much as one would expect: a 50/50 split between ramshackle guitar sing-a-longs and teeneybopper ballads that masquerade as heartfelt emotional statements. One example from the latter category is ‘Me and You’, on which Bugg whines “All of these people want us to fail / I won’t let that happen, no”. Well, it seems you didn’t try hard enough, Jake. The singer-songwriter has always marketed himself as genuine: authentic with a capital A. But it’s hard to empathize with a track whose most sincere image is “There are too many flashes and guards around me / There is too little time and places to see”. I’m not going to waste my time feeling sorry for the guy because he’s being papped for walking around with Cara Delevingne on his arm. True, there is a story to be told in dealing with the demands of fame (just tune into ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ from Arcade Fire‘s Reflektor), but this isn’t so much a story as a cack-handed attempt to win sympathy, in order to recreate the “us versus them” vibe of his debut.
‘All Your Reasons’ is another ballad in the same key as ‘Me and You’. This time, Bugg tries to channel his inner muse in order to – wait for it – “set the world on fire”. The song is indicative of the album as a whole: it’s not necessarily bad per se, but it’s nothing which hasn’t already been done in a far superior way. Bugg’s voice is amiable if not particularly pleasant, the lyrics are vague and ultimately laden with hollow clichés, whilst the chord structures are clunky and generic.
It’s here that the real problems with Shangri La emerge. If Bugg’s songwriting skills were half as impressive as his barbed attacks on other musicians, the album would be a delight. But they’re not; in fact, they’re not even his songs. As with his self-titled debut, Bugg’s second album makes use of guest writers: an absolutely ridiculous circumstance for Britain’s allegedly brightest young talent to find himself in. This makes laughable his claim that he stands opposed to “that X Factor shit”, because in many ways, Bugg is playing exactly the same game. Singing other people’s songs, releasing his second album in as many years, and carefully appealing to a distinct target audience through social media and numerous interviews. In this sense, there’s absolutely no difference between Jake Bugg and, say, Little Mix. Except that Little Mix don’t pretend that they’re something they’re not.
The only way that Bugg will produce an album truly worth listening to is by tearing up his contract with Universal, and spitting in the faces of his songwriters.
On album closer ‘Storm Passes Away’, Bugg laments that “I’m older than I’m supposed to be”. This is undoubtedly true, but I don’t understand why it’s a problem. Bugg obviously wants to be taken seriously as a musician, as a commentator on society, as the Midlands answer to Bob Dylan or whatever, and to do this he needs only his guitar. The only way he’ll ever truly produce an album worth listening to, and indeed, an album worth purchasing, is by tearing up his contract with Universal, spitting in the faces of his songwriters and ditching his supermodel companions as soon as possible. (Well, maybe he can be forgiven for the last part.) He needs to truly learn the meaning of authenticity, and perhaps then he will discover his own individual style, instead of sounding like Noel Gallagher impersonating Noel Gallagher at a Noel Gallagher tribute act competition.
If this empty vessel of an album is going to win any awards, it will only be in the fictional category of Least Appropriate Album Name’. That’s because “Shangri La” is meant to be a reference to an earthly paradise. Bugg’s album couldn’t be further from this imagined utopia; rather it’s more suited to a deserted service station off of the M61. The album is expendable, insincere and pointless. As a student, I’m not under the illusion that you were ever considering buying it, but I honestly wouldn’t waste the bandwidth it would require to illegally download it. If you desperately fancy yourself some bluesy rock or, if more likely, you’re bored of the same old pop on your iPod and want to prove to your mates that you’re a bit more “indie”, do yourself a favor and download Dylan or a bit of Johnny Cash instead.
Ultimately, there’s nothing to be seen here. Bland and boring, Shangri La is far from good, whilst never daring to put a foot out of line by doing something “bad”. This is the greatest mistake the record makes. Jake Bugg, grow a pair.
Similar To: Oasis, Miles Kane
MP3: Something by Bob Dylan