Looking at the albums that immediately preceded Bugg’s at the top spot, however, we find the 19-year old singer-songwriter is not quite the iconoclast he’s made out to be. In reverse order: Muse, Mumford & Sons, The Killers, The xx, and The Vaccines. Though Bugg eschews the futuristic elements of the majority of those groups, it’s certainly a more logical progression than the former.
So really, Bugg is a prime example of the UK Chart’s sporadic breath of fresh air for the rock-minded, in the vein of Kings of Leon and Jack White. He’s been called the British answer to the latter, as well as the Next Dylan. His young Jagger-esque ruggedness certainly invites further classic-era rock star comparisons too.
But put all that aside. His latest, Shangri-La, is a collection heavy on love songs that embrace a heartfelt frankness over White’s freakiness and Dylan’s inscrutability. Nothing here has quite the immediate strike of breakout hit “Lightning Bolt,” but Shangri-La, like its predecessor, rolls out melody after melody of folk-tinged retro rock enriched by Bugg’s nasal croon. It’s an archetypal delivery you swear you’ve heard a million times before, yet it’s decidedly Bugg. Rick Rubin’s production is wise to keep it ubiquitously front and center.
Shangri-La runs front-heavy with a memorable 1-2-3 rollicking punch starting with “There’s A Beast and We All Feed It” and capped by lead single “What Doesn’t Kill You.” Two of his most charming and calmer tunes (“Me and You,” “A Song About Love”) follow, proving that Bugg doesn’t have to keep it short and fast to make it sweet.
Lyrically, Bugg still has room for improvement, as the political songs (“Messed Up Kids,” “Kingpin”) run a tad clumsy. But a fine song like “Simple Pleasures” works as a makeshift mission statement for Bugg’s appeal: a knack for melody (closer “Storm Passes Away” could easily pass for a Woody Guthrie tune), rock n’ roll savior status in the media, and unabashed garage rock arrangements, courtesy of musicians who have played with Elvis Costello, The Mars Volta, and Jenny Lewis. Combined with his debut, Shangri-La clarifies any confusion as to Bugg’s commercial success.