When Jake Bugg’s debut album was released in 2012, I was convinced that he was going to dominate the world. I thought that for years to come he would be selling out arenas, releasing number one albums, and eventually headlining major festivals. Five years on though and his fourth album, Hearts That Strain, has been released almost out of nowhere with just one pre-release single, How Soon The Dawn, and barely any promotion to support it.
It saddens me to see how different his path has gone to the way I thought it would go, and I’m sure many of his fans would agree that it started with the release of his third album, 2016’s On My One. When I first listened to On My One I got the feeling that the label had placed a lot of pressure on Jake to write an album that would reach number one to ensure he stayed relevant in pop-culture. For a folk-country singer-songwriter in the 21st century, writing with the intention of producing chart-worthy hits is the wrong way to go about it, and this really showed with On My One. The result was a disappointing album which felt confused and saw Jake straying from his folk-country roots and instead experimenting with genres he should have stayed well clear of. It sold less copies than his first two, was badly received by his fans, and has seen him slip away from the limelight.
Only one year later Jake Bugg has released Hearts That Strain, and while it might not be Jake at his best, it really is a step in the right direction again and it’s a relief to know that he hasn’t lost his way. To start with, there is consistency throughout the album. Jake isn’t dipping his toes in different genres to see where the best reactions come from; instead he sticks with a laid-back, 60s folk-country vibe, a genre he is clearly comfortable with.
Hearts That Strain opens with single How Soon The Dawn, a soothing, soulful number with an uplifting and relaxing feel to it. It’s a strong track, but not attention-grabbing enough to be an opener; then again none of the tracks on the album are attention-grabbing. Consistency can be a key component of a good album, and as mentioned previously is one improvement with this album compared to the last, but while there is consistency in the genre it could benefit from a few more upbeat songs.
There are other flaws with the album as a whole, but there are also some really striking songs that on their own stand out as great tracks, such as Indigo Blue, This Time, and title track Hearts That Strain. It is also worth noting that the album’s mellow instrumentals give Jake’s vocals the opportunity to shine. In particular, his vocals are fantastic on Southern Rain, a smooth country number, and In The Event of my Demise, a darker track with a slight psychedelic vibe.
The album was recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and the Memphis Boys, who worked as session musicians with Elvis. Their influences can definitely be heard throughout the album, especially on Waiting, a duet-ballad which features Noah Cyrus (sister of Miley), and closing track Every Colour In The World. I have read multiple articles that suggest Jake Bugg needs co-writers to produce good songs, but if Hearts That Strain is anything to go by he certainly has a knack for writing mature songs, both musically and lyrically, and the songs on this album that don’t have a co-writer are actually the strongest.
There is no doubt that this album could benefit from a bit more urgency, but overall Hearts That Strain is an easy listen and a gentle reminder to his fans of why they fell in love with him in the first place.
Top Tracks: Indigo Blue, Hearts That Strain, Southern Rain
Release date: September 1st, 2017
- How Soon The Dawn
- Southern Rain
- In The Event Of My Demise
- This Time
- The Man On Stage
- Hearts That Strain
- Burn Alone
- Indigo Blue
- Bigger Love
- Every Colour In The World