In November 2013—the same week he released his sophomore album, Shangri-La—Jake Bugg told NME, “I want to make an acoustic record, something not necessarily with big choruses. For example, [Nick Drake’s] Pink Moon, you take one of those tracks separately, it doesn’t stand up, but if you take it all together and it creates a mood, an atmosphere.”
Back in February, Bugg released the title track to his third album, On My One, a short and fragile acoustic track that validated the aforementioned Pink Moon narrative. “I’m just a poor boy from Nottingham / I had my dreams / But in this world they’re gone, they’re gone / Oh, I’m so lonesome on my one” he sings in his now trademark nasally voice, harkening back to themes of escape from his first record. Over a fingerpicked riff not too different than Nick Drake’s “Know,” Bugg shows that he can’t fully leave the “speed bump city” that he so desperately wanted to get out of in 2012’s “Trouble Town.”
But that acoustic record without big choruses only exists for the first 2:14 of On My One, blown apart by an upbeat processed drum machine beat for the album’s second track, “Gimme the Love.” Filled with quick, almost rapped lyrics and synths aplenty, it’s without a doubt the most poppy Bugg has gone over the course of his three albums. Unfortunately, his voice just doesn’t do himself any favors on a track like this—it’s simply much more suited for the nu-folk sound that initially won him widespread fame.
That quick switch between genres on the record’s first two songs is a common recurrence throughout the entirety of On My One; Bugg is all over the map throughout this collection of 11 tracks. It’s a restless record, but not necessarily in a good way. While no Jake Bugg album has ever had much of a logical flow, constantly alternating between heartfelt acoustic ballads and upbeat Highway 61 Revisited-esque folk rockers, On My One takes that to an extreme. On this record, Bugg blends hip hop (“Ain’t No Rhyme”), country (“Livin’ Up Country”), and pop/R&B (“Never Wanna Dance”) with many of the other tracks acting as sort of a combination of the three.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some great tracks on here. “Love, Hope and Misery” will for sure be a festival-wide sing-along with its big chorus. Its song structure mimics that of Shangri-La highlight “A Song About Love,” a track that can get even the most jaded concertgoer to join in. “All That” rivals the best of Bugg’s saccharine ballads like “Country Song” and “Broken.” “Livin’ Up Country” may be the best road-tripping song of the year.
Over just 33 minutes, On My One simply meanders too much, too unfocused as it weaves in and out of multiple genres, never getting a solid footing in any of them. At 22, Bugg is on the precipice of superstardom in his native UK—and quite honestly might already be there—and the poppier tracks on his third effort will most likely help him reach even higher heights even though they abandon what got him here in the first place. It’s natural for musicians to want to evolve over the course of multiple releases, but unfortunately on On My One, Bugg just can’t figure out which direction he wants to go.
For more from Jake Bugg, check out his 2013 Daytrotter session in the player below.