Jake Bugg burst into general consciousness with the release of his self-titled debut album in September of 2012. A number one debut is an impressive feat, but a bigger challenge would be recording a follow-up that equalled or bettered the first.

Monday (November 18) saw the release of his second album Shangri La – named after the Malibu studio where it was recorded – and it comes with a bite from the very first track, that was only hinted at by last year’s offering.

Bugg enlisted the services of legendary producer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Jay Z, Black Sabbath, Adele) and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith for the task of recording Shangri La, which was accomplished in between various tours around the world. Rubin’s efforts cannot be faulted: the album has just the right amount of polish, but remains raw enough to reflect the lyrical content that returns primarily to what Bugg knows – tales of council living in Nottinghamshire – whilst expanding into the stories of a world that is still relatively new to him – that of someone in the public eye.

The first three songs (particularly the two leading singles ‘Slumville Sunrise’ and ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’) are far more rock-like than any on the last album, which largely confined itself to the indie-folk bracket. The very short and upbeat opener ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’, is a critical look at modern and celebrity culture. It highlights the insincerity of people, and their fear that “someone will tweet” their thoughts. Meanwhile ‘Slumville Sunrise’ is a flashback to the the lyrical stylings of many of the songs on Bugg’s first album; a look at the hopelessness of someone living in a Nottingham council estate.

‘Me and You’ takes the tempo down a step for the first time in the album, and offers a much more personal song from Bugg. It shows him trying to hold together a relationship in the face of external and unwelcome pressure. Bugg continues with this theme during the noticeably longer ‘A Song About Love’, a slower ballad-style track and the first one that slips below Bugg’s ability par.

The mid-album rut is stretched to the next song, ‘All Your Reasons’, but these are soon forgotten with the emergence of the more ‘classic’ Bugg during ‘Kingpin’. Within, he envisions himself, something that is possibly an extension of his surprising and slightly inflated ego following the massive successes he has achieved over the past 18 months. This is a much more crowd-pleasing song, and one that could easily assist in Bugg’s live performances.

MASTER PRODUCER: Nottingham's Jake Bugg (right) talks 'Shangri La' with super-producer Rick Rubin at the studio. Photo (c) Ken Westerberg/tonedeaf.com.au

GUIDANCE: Nottingham’s Jake Bugg (right) talking ‘Shangri La’ with super-producer Rick Rubin at the studio in Malibu earlier this year. Photo (c) Ken Westerberg/tonedeaf.com.au

More venom is injected into the album with the penultimate song ‘Simple Pleasures’, which slowly builds with anger like a snake rearing its head. Shangri La is wrapped up by ‘Storm Passes Away’, a very barebones song that fits with its deeply personal nature: Bugg asks for someone to stay with him through the titular storm, which could credibly be the media frenzy that has not left him alone during his career.

Ultimately, Shangri La is a great follow-up album that expands on the foundations that Bugg laid with his debut. It widens his musical breadth, but is still that: a follow-up. Good, nonetheless, and certainly worth a listen, but still not as fresh as 2012’s Jake Bugg.

4 stars ★

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