When an artist has such a strong and popular début, there is always a weight of expectation placed on them that makes a second album a daunting prospect. It was, therefore, a little surprising that Jake Bugg was following up last year's breakthrough hit with another album so soon, although that fact that respected and talented producer Rick Rubin was at the helm of the project suggested that it probably wasn't going to be terrible. However, the biggest surprise is that "Shangri La" (named after the studio in which it was recorded), in my opinion, is arguably a better album than its predecessor; the eponymous début showed the raw promise of the artist, whereas "Shangri La" delivers on that promise. Bugg and co-writers Iain Archer and ex-Raconteur Brendan Benson (and guitarist Matt Sweeney on "Simple Pleasures") have penned a very strong set of songs for this release and the excellent band, including Elvis Costello's drummer, Pete Thomas, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers' Chad Smith, truly do justice to the compositions with some very powerful performances. You could be forgiven for thinking that this album is simply more of the same from Bugg, given the album opener, "There's A Beast And We All Feed It", but when you get to track two things start to sound a little different and that's when the truly outstanding material begins.
"Slumville Sunrise" is absolutely fantastic, an upbeat indie stomping monster of a track with a blistering guitar solo. "What Doesn't Kill You" is also excellent, a fast-paced piece which gets the adrenaline pumping whilst it is followed by a track which is its polar opposite, "Me and You", a gentle country-influenced composition which features a nice picked acoustic guitar line and a lovely soaring chorus. The influence of Brendan Benson, an artist and songwriter I greatly admire and enjoy listening to immensely, is apparent on the great "Messed Up Kids", which is an irresistible helping of indie-pop. "A Song About Love" is perhaps one of the best tracks that Bugg has put his name to and showcases a superb, heartfelt vocal performance which surely could invoke an emotional response in even the most cynical heart. The slightly dark "All Your Reasons" is one of the slow-burners on the album but is a fine example of the growing maturity of Jake's writing, whereas the almost instantly familiar and likeable "Kingpin", a two-and-a-half-minute burst of pure energy hits you square in the face the very first time you hear it. "Simple Pleasures" is my last pick of the album, which has the feel of a rock track from the seventies and just oozes class, as does this entire release.
In my opinion, why "Shangri La" is such a triumph is partly because all of the ingredients that made Jake's first album so enjoyable are still all present and correct here, but they have also been added to in order to make an album which has a little more depth and texture. The sound is fuller, the songs a little more ambitious, the writing is slightly more mature and the appeal of much of the material a lot more universal. The quirkiness of Bugg's style and delivery hasn't been compromised at all, but having Rubin as producer and by surrounding himself with great talents such as Benson, Smith and Thomas, their experience and know-how have helped Jake make an album that will please all of his old fans, win himself plenty of new admirers and, simply put, more people will enjoy. Not only is this, in my opinion, Bugg's finest achievement to date (and let's not forget - he's still just nineteen years old), it is also one of the best albums released this year and deserves much critical acclaim and commercial success.