Call me cynical, but original
Tryin’ to fit into a world that’s so digital
Came to let you know
I left the pigeon hole
Now I gotta find an edge, won’t let it go
Jake Bugg, “All I Need”
Poor Jake Bugg. It seems whatever choice he makes upsets somebody. His most recent long-player Saturday Night, Sunday Morning got some rave reviews as well as its share of detractors. But more than any other Bugg album, barring his self-titled debut, the record exudes a coherent style, a commitment to pursue a more contemporary sound come what may, combining classic Bugg vocals and guitar with dance beats and a radio-friendly sheen. I can certainly imagine a dance-mix of “Rabbit Hole” or “Lost” thumping out of some poorly lit night club. But as with most things Bugg, the songs have a substance that lend themselves to varying treatments. Compare the album version of “All I Need” to the ‘Mahogany Sessions’ version to really appreciate the jazzy elements in the guitar and piano riffs.
I really enjoy both versions of the song and the fact that Bugg is trying to have his genre cake and eat it too, operating as he is under the pull of different factions of his audience. Basically he’s got a younger contemporary group with broad tastes (like Bugg himself) and an older group that would prefer he just re-issue a remake of his debut album again and again. And I get it (as a member of the older group, at least age-wise), his first record was not just another album, it was an experience. It spoke to a generation of young people who felt left behind economically and broader group of working class people regardless of age who had seldom heard their working class experience reflected in popular culture. To see an ocean of fans at various festivals in the 2012-14 period belt out his lyrics was both shiver-inducing and very moving. The temptation to simply redo his debut must have been strong. But as Bugg said shortly after making it big, he was no longer living the life that had inspired the songs on the first album. It’s hard to sing about the travails of the working class when you’re jetting around the world and modelling for Burberry. Now, in fairness, when you’re brought up in the working class it stays with you, even if you change class positions. But it often means you’re not this or that. And that’s what we see on Bugg’s post debut albums, the struggle to please his fans and find his own voice amidst the trappings of fame. Albums 2, 3 and 4 try to juggle these competing demands with varying levels of success.
This is where Saturday Night, Sunday Morning marks a significant departure. Stylistically it commits to what it’s doing. Set aside your bias for roots/folkie Jake Bugg and listen to this record on its own terms and it’s a winner. Put your headphones on to appreciate the guitar magic Bugg is working on “Kiss Like a Sun” and the chorus that has a wonderful dreamy quality. The album has a number of indie rock tracks like “Screaming” and “Lonely Hours” that feature Bugg’s signature electric guitar and a great setting for his more rock and roll vocals. “About Last Night” sounds like the should-be radio hit. “Lost” rides that fine line between club and pop hit, with a hypnotic combination of hooky bass lines and piano riffs. “Scene” was the song that initially caught my attention on this album. I like Bugg’s phrasing on the song and the production effects. A slow burn bit of ear candy. “Maybe It’s Today” has an early 1960s stroll-on-the-boardwalk feel, a bit of Spector, a bit of Springsteen, while “Downtown” is the lovely kind of piano ballad Bugg excels at. Hey there’s even a roots/folkie contribution with the acoustic guitar throwback “Hold Tight.”
The lyrics to “All I Need” album are the first words you hear on this album and they lay out Jake Bugg’s dilemma pretty clearly. With Saturday Night, Sunday Morning he tries to leave behind the pigeon hole both fans and critics would put him in. And he does – sort of. You see Bugg is sneaky bloke and in addition to this album he’s also released rootsy/folky versions of a number of the album songs. Best of both worlds? You bet. Check out the wicked stripped-down versions of “Kiss Like the Sun” and “Lost.” Or there’s the hypnotic acoustic-dance mix of the non-album single with CamelPhat, “Be Someone.”
I feel like the search is over. The Jake Bugg that appears on this album sounds like he knows who he is and what he’s doing. Hopefully everyone else will catch on.