A year ago this English singer-songwriter was largely unknown in the U.S. despite the fact that his self-titled debut had entered the British chart at No. 1. Today Jake Bugg is still largely unknown here, but the folks who do know him are people of influence. Thus "Shangri La," Bugg's second album, titled after the Malibu studio where he recorded with A-list producer Rick Rubin and an all-star band that included Elvis Costello's drummer and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The result isn't the clean-up job it might've been; Bugg, 19, still sings with a nasal edge that wouldn't last more than a round on "American Idol." Yet the songwriting here feels more evened-out, less appealingly pugnacious than it did last time, when he was using old-fashioned early rock grooves to blast the phonies all around him.
One exception is the album's rollicking opener, "There's a Beast and We All Feed It," about playing nice to get ahead. But even there he's kind of guilty of doing the same thing. "I'm not a finger pointer," Bugg sings, "I will not cry your name." Come on, Jake — somebody's gotta do it.
One and a half stars (out of four)