Jake Bugg released his fourth album this August, titled “Hearts That Strain” this latest instalment lands just over a year following On My One which dropped in June of last year. “How Soon The Dawn” which was released as a single a few weeks ago is an intriguing track, it’s unconventional compared to his usual stuff whilst still managing to capture your attention even with its melancholy form. Bugg’s love for current girlfriend Roxy undoubtedly influenced the lyrics and overall definition of the album, more so with “How Soon The Dawn” – Roxy is in the music video suggesting further the influence she has on his music. After listening to the title track a few times it becomes rather enigmatic in making you wonder how the rest of the album will sound.
My love for the rock/indie genre often means many of my favourite tunes were released before I was even born. That also makes it harder to discover hidden gems and power through a discography in full due to how many albums many have. Whereas if you’re present for an album’s initial release you can pay it your full attention, I’ve loved Jake Bugg from when he first burst onto the scene and can resonate with his ideology and simply his music. I always thought he’d remain among my all time favourite musicians to the day I died. Sadly not.
It was disheartening finding out he used a co-writer for his first two albums as the initial (now false) perception of his “songwriting” impressed many, now though I wish he wouldn’t have decided to write solo as it’s ridiculous how much better “Jake Bugg/Shangri La” are than “On My One/Hearts That Strain”. He has suggested a few times how he writes what he feels is right rather than what the fans want – respectable maybe, but as Dave would say it’s Rock n Roll Suicide.
The music itself is generally mundane and ordinary, I honestly don’t feel the need to go into too much detail. I’ve listened to the whole album in its entirety a fair few times now, and still almost no songs are memorable – to me at least. His iconic, recognisable voice is the only factor reminding you that you’re listening to Jake Bugg rather than a James Blunt like figure. The best track is easily “Indigo Blue”, it exemplifies an avant-garde 60s sound which naturally appeals to his conventional fan base though bitterly reminding us how much better it could have all been.
It’s hard to define what style of music is present here; a combination between folk rock and soul is a fairly accurate description, in theory that hybrid sounds brilliant – albeit that changes after you factor in those beleaguered undertones here that almost screams stagnation. I’ve been to every album tour that the Clifton boy has done so far, I’m fairly certain I won’t be going to this tour though – that’s how apathetic I feel towards this album. If you combine Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, Jonny Cash and a bit of James Blunt but made them really shit – you get Hearts That Strain.
The manifestation of the innovative and disparate caricature figure Bugg adopted initially caused an abundance of people to become infatuated with him, those characteristics now appear non-existent. Most tracks on the album are stupidly similar to each other, it’s comprehensively bland as a whole lacking those genuine aspects which made his debut release so relatable as it felt like a legitimate insight into Bugg’s life. As I’ve mentioned previously in other articles perhaps he has simply become disenfranchised with the music industry leading to what seems like a substantial reduction in how much effort he puts in.
All in all it’s a forgettable album in its destitute manner, there are still a few glimpses of quality present throughout suggesting how he still undoubtedly has the ability to release a further phenomenal album – whether he actually will is a different question completely. Expanding into a wistful genre this time around was a mistake, that gloomy feel and presence is what Bugg based his initial songs around. That framework fails here as the narratives embedded in each song do not seem real when compared to his original style where the stories of each track felt real and therefore far more engaging. “Taste It” is a perfect example, you can imagine that party in your head whilst you’re listening to it.
Following the mediocrity of One My One he really needed a quality album to reinvigorate the status he held 5 years ago – a year isn’t long enough to perfect an album, that certainly played a part here but you can blame it on whatever you want. Ultimately we received a dismal sombre piece of music undeserving of any association with his first two releases. A young prodigy of the alternative scene whom was frequently compared to Bob Dylan hasn’t delivered – the next album must be stupendous, otherwise he will be condemned to the category of “what could’ve been”.
Painful to say but it’s a 4/10