Four tumultuous years after his debut rocketed to No. 1 on the U.K. charts, the scruffy wunderkind from Nottingham may be older and wiser, yet he’s no less defiant. The making of his third album, On My One, was a long and hard journey riddled with rumors and power struggles. Originally, Beastie Boy Mike D was sitting in the producer’s chair only to be inexplicably replaced by Jacknife Lee and Bugg. Then came reports that the label, Mercury, had insisted that he continue collaborating with outside songwriters. Not only did Bugg balk, but he eventually crafted an album that moves significantly away from the folksy sound that initially made him a star. Oh, and he also found time to bicker with perpetual grumpster Noel Gallagher. But Bugg is one of England’s brashest and most wildly talented stars, and here are a handful of reasons why you need to pay attention to Jake Bugg.
1. Bugg goes clubbing — sort of. He still strums his guitar, but as On My One demonstrates, he’s added some serious groove to the mix. In a recent interview with the NME, he said “There’s songs people can actually dance to.” Case in point: “Gimme the Love” will transform you into a raver for three minutes.
2. Nobody has a voice like his. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Bugg’s unique singing style: nasally, clipped and slathered in a street-bred accent. The only semi-sensible comparison would be Lee Mavers of The La’s, who in the early ’90s became critical darlings thanks to their tender mix of folk pop and Brit rock.
3. The young man possesses zero filter. Bugg has a reputation for being extremely outspoken. On top of dissing pop queen Taylor Swift, he has repeatedly treated the boy band One Direction as if they were his own personal punching bag. The musician hit the nail on the head when he told The Independent, “Perhaps I’m not a nice person, but no one’s perfect.”
4. That Beasties connection is vital. Though the music Bugg recorded with Mike D doesn’t appear on On My One, it proved to be a pivotal experience nonetheless. “Just hanging with him was inspiring,” the singer/songwriter told Rolling Stone. “You learn things and he’s introducing you to different types of music. It was a great experience.”
5. Bugg knows how to pour his restless soul into lyrical poetry. It seems as though every tune he writes contains a memorable line (or three). One of his personal favorites can be found in “Trouble Town,” a folk rock jaunt found on his 2012 debut: “Stuck in speed bump city, where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out.”
6. If you don’t support Bugg now, then he could be flipping burgers the rest of his life. OK, so that’s an exaggeration, but the 22-year-old did go into the making of On My One thinking the commercial stakes were perilously high. “It’s make or break,” he confided to NME . “If it flops, who’s gonna buy the fourth record? That’s why I had to give it everything.”
7. He’s a precocious whiz kid surrounded by top-shelf talent. Bugg was still a gawky teenager when he began work on his sophomore effort, Shangri La, an album produced by iconic producer Rick Rubin and featuring contributions from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith and guitar ace Matt Sweeney.
8. Bugg sounds like a cross between The Black Keys and the Bee Gees on “Love, Hope and Misery.” Featuring a bluesy gait, baroque pop strings and crazy deep bass, the tragedy-stained spellbinder is one of the very best on On My One.
9. He’s an authentic working-class hero. There’s no mistaking Bugg for a posh rich kid — or even middle class, for that matter. He was born and raised in Nottingham, a city whose history is stained with the grit and grime of English industry.
10. The Simpsons inspired Bugg to become a musician. It’s true. When he heard Don McLean’s “Vincent’ in the 2003 episode “Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky” Bugg knew that being a singer/songwriter was the life for him. Incidentally, he was only nine when it originally aired.
11. Bugg’s pre-show warm-up routine reflects his killer taste in music. Before concerts he likes to relax and sing a few Beatles and Johnny Cash tunes to stretch out his vocal chords.
12. The title track reaffirms his love of vintage British folk-rock. For those worried that Bugg has completely ditched the acoustic stuff, you only need spin “On My One” to know his haunted balladry still echoes the likes of Bert Jansch and a (super young) Al Stewart.
13. He’s so badass he opened for The Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park. That puts Bugg in a select group that also includes Prince, The White Stripes, Guns N’ Roses and Ike & Tina Turner.