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British it-boy Jake Bugg stuck in the mud, but looking up

Nineteen-year-old Jake Bugg’s Shangri La pops with a Dylan-ish stomp and an Oasis-sized sneer.

3 out of 4 stars

Shangri La
Jake Bugg
Virgin/Universal Canada

The blues have grabbed Jake Bugg, tore him all upside down. "Out from the darkness, your heartlessness haunting my future," he sings, cheerlessly against the soft rain of a Fender Rhodes and a near-boss nova beat. "Down on all fours, you bark at the descending moonlight."

The song is Kitchen Table, one of the more subdued numbers on an album that pops hard out of the gate with There's a Beast and We All Feed It, a skiffle-happy quickie about day-to-day ugliness that's just too accepted and common. The single Slumville Sunrise is a caffeine-speed boogie about Nottingham, England, the 19-year-old's hometown. Like the Arctic Monkeys and that band's hard-boiled Sheffield, Bugg's pictures are something other than pretty. He's of a sooty mood and he wants out: "My face upon the concrete, the dirt is in my mouth … this place is just not for me."

Shangri La is the not-bad follow-up to the precocious Bugg's eponymous debut from a year ago. It's full of beans, Oasis-sized sneer, Dylan-ish stomp and general Arctic Monkey business. The young singer-songwriter, with his sullen and serious glare, is the Brit-music flavour of the month (along with London's King Krule, aka Archy Marshall, also 19).

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It's not so presumptuous to say that Bugg's music will be the music of somebody's youth. I think he knows it, too. On the affecting, spot-lit show-stopper A Song About Love, he sings to the back rows about the shelter of melodies – "songs about memories that hide and then shatter your mind." And on the moody Laurel Canyon jangle-rock of All Your Reasons: "It's my heart's desire to set the world on fire … summer's almost gone, and I'll be singing all the songs."

The satisfying album ends with Storm Passes Away, a sweet cowboy song. It concerns the riding out of bad weather together, and being ready when the gloom breaks. "I'm on my knees, turn off the darkness please," he asks, not so forlornly. Saddle up, then, Jake Bugg. Shangri-La is on the horizon, and daylight is always near.

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In what can only be seen as a big-time fail, Lady Gaga's Artpop debuted only at No. 3 on the Nielsen SoundScan chart in Canada, where it trailed Celine Dion's Loved Me Back to Life and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which held their positions at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Gaga's Artpop did top the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, however.

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Robbie Williams's Swing Both Ways, The Who's Tommy (reissue), Antonio Pappano's Britten's War Requiem, and the soundtrack album The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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