Jake Bugg got delivered to my doorstep several months ago, and now I'm in the position of saying, 'Damn, Rick Rubin, brilliant job.'
Hear it here:
Shangri La is the young Brit's second effort, and it's going to be the one. Rubin picked the right few players, and got it down - not losing the kid's great writing, but framing it with great sonics. Matt Sweeney, Chad Smith, Pete Thomas, Jason Lader, these are all hallmark names, and they deliver the goods as sidemen - sure, this sounds a little ProTools-ish and sometimes a bit derivative, but in a day and age when this is just how projects are done, this is a wall-to-wall winner.
This album sounds best when taken out of context - if I said this was made in a garage in Brighton in 1966, it would be proclaimed as the missing masterpiece of a generation. In fact, I think the sequencing could have been made better by kicking things of with What Doesn't Kill You, the delicious slice of power punk that deflects the obvious Dylan comparisons that may result from opening with a There's A Beast and We All Feed It, as brilliant as the song is.
Even when he's chasing Zimmerman's ghosts, Bugg makes the grade - this record sounds as we always wanted Bob's records to sound like, less tinny, more meaty, and clear as a ringing bell.
Slumville Surprise rocks its way down the highway with a brisk beat and kick ass guitars that step back to allow the kid to deliver the big, sumptuous, and sweet chorus. Yeah, there was never a guitar solo quite this good on a Dylan record - I hope Bugg can find a live band strong enough to stand next to this record.
What Doesn't Kill You is a pre-apocolyptic rocker that drags you down the street at full speed, but still manages to sweeten up for the hook. When I first heard Bugg I thought, yeah, the songs and lyrics were there, but I wasn't sure about the arrangements - in the interim, he's stepped up, and now he has the enviable problem of having the songs sound so great that you might not notice the brilliance of the writing. This hook will have you humming for days.
It's hard to separate the tones on this record from that of its forefathers, but that's a niggling point. Me and You is another tune that transcends comparisons by outrunning its past. The choruses always take a turn that brings a grin, and aside from an overly loud cymbal, I can find no fault.
The crack band breaks out every twist and turn they know, and I even think I'm even hearing a little Guided By Voices/Indie influence woven into Messed Up Kids. Mostly, this is just well played, well written, and yes, well produced pop. Buggs may be getting swallowed up by the machinery, but damn, it sounds great, cut to cut. Rick Rubin may have blown it to my ears with a near wilted Black Sabbath, but all is forgiven, as he's made a record that deserves to make year end Top Ten lists here.
A Song About Love shows Bugg's sensitive side, and he consistently sounds like the way brilliant almost twenty somethings used to sound. All Your Reasons is a mid-tempo stomper that suggests a familiarity with the folk rockers of the early seventies who combined their angst with beauty to create a history. Maybe I'll throw out CSN&Y on a good day as a reference point. David Crosby would surely love this tune. I'm guessing he'd dig the whole record.
It's back to the big rock with Kingpin, and it's a tale of trying to stay ahead of your detractors and the trouble they may bring. Big rock is happening here with a huge beat and bass getting ran down the road by gritty guitars that sound vaguely familiar - if you're really sharp, you can hear the cops in the arrangements, but it's more fun than annoying.
Kitchen Table gets a bit more sophisticated with its rhythms and rhymes. This is also more along the paths of Laurel Canyon circa 1970, and I'm more than happy to make the trip. My one hope would be that people get past the hype and the hoopla, and just listen to this record with open ears and an open heart. Jake Bugg is getting the full treatment, but he's the best pure writer I've heard come down the trail in many, many a moon.
Acoustic guitars feature largely across the record, and Pine Trees may be the least adorned number, and Bugg shines when left to his own devices - pen, guitar, and voice.
Then it's back to the band and Rubin's brilliance as Simple Pleasures washes ashore with gorgeous guitars that announce the arrival of the bard. I congratulate Bugg for letting the pros do what they do as they weave magic around his tunes. This is a slow build that eventually explodes into something more musical and powerful than anything I ever heard coming from the age of grunge. People who say rock is dead are simply whiners who aren't listening. If I had given you this album in any decade, you'd sing its praises.
Storm Passes Away evokes folk music via The Traveling Wilburys, and I mean that with all due respect - the writing is top shelf, and the arrangement is both sophisticated and extremely tasty. Bugg sounds like he could have recorded this in 1964, 1974, or today - he transcends trends and manages to never sound quaint, even when borrowing styles and cliches with which to wrap around his tone poems.
Jake Bugg isn't the new Dylan, hell, Dylan would have just as soon not been Dylan, so I won't saddle him with crap like that - if you need a lowest common denominator, sure, but this is a kid who has ingested every piece of music he's ever heard and is smart enough to surround himself with talent that doesn't overshadow or intimidate. In doing so, he's made one of the coolest records I've heard all year.
Congrats to Rick Rubin - I seem to either love or hate your work, but that's more about something other than just quality. You're in a complicated business and anyone who ever batted .500 ended up in the Hall of Fame, so there you go.