On Aug. 20, English musician Jake Bugg released his fifth full-length album, “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning.” His debut album, which was self-titled and very successful in the UK, had a very distinct folk sound to it. With this most recent release, that indie-folk sound seems to have waned, leaving a pop, radio-friendly tone to take center stage. This tone reflects the writers on the album, including Andrew Watt, who has written for pop artists such as Miley Cyrus. This very dramatic genre shift has left Bugg’s fans feeling a bit of whiplash, debating whether or not the album missed the mark this time around.
Bugg seemed to be highly aware of this new direction that he was taking, citing artists such as ABBA and the Bee Gees as part of the inspiration for his album. He went into it wanting an upbeat pop sound that’s almost entirely opposite to his traditional melancholic indie. It’s a risky choice, to be sure, considering that his original sound can be credited for his success. Bugg was very clear about his influences and that explains his transition into the pop world.
For many of the songs on the album, the genre shift was a worthwhile one. In “All I Need,” a single dropped in 2020, the radio pop sound actually bolstered the song’s flow. It has a very distinguishable energy that is uplifting without being obnoxious or hollow. We see this again later in the album in “Lost,” which had a similar energetic nature, if a little bit more angst. Its pop sound was built through a very subtle synth and disco musical track. One of his strongest songs on the album, “Kiss Like the Sun,” brought Bugg back to a slight indie-folk sound. On the album as a whole, Bugg pulled the pop genre off beautifully and seamlessly, making standout tracks that will be definite highlights in his career.
That being said, most of the songs on “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning” actually heavily missed the mark. Since the genre is such a radical shift for Bugg, the experimentation was obvious, and not in a good way. Many tracks felt very tentative and open-ended; some were just random and disjointed. “Maybe It’s Today,” for example, seemed like it had potential, but it was so experimental it almost felt boring. The bassline in the background remained consistent for longer than it needed to and fell away at the chorus. Although the chorus’s slight vocal layering did make for a slight shimmer in sound, it was mostly just a letdown. The same can be said for “Rabbit Hole.” Both of these songs seemed to be so close to being beautiful tracks, but Bugg went about them in a way that was too adventurous.
Bugg’s recently released single “Downtown” may have been the worst one of them all; it was a derivative, bland record from the very beginning. For an artist with Bugg’s skill, having a project that sounds so radio-friendly should be a personal disappointment. With a bland and uninteresting composition, the record gave a glimpse into an inconsequential Bugg project.
Although the genre shift doesn’t appear to have worked out for Bugg, it may have been necessary. In the past few years, the singer has been at a bit of a standstill in regard to his music. His two previous albums, “Hearts That Strain” and “On My One,” have been fine as individual albums but have been nothing new in the grand scheme of his career. Those past two albums did not leave behind any legacy. In short, they were the worst thing an album could be: forgettable. In setting up this context in Bugg’s career, it makes sense why he decided to heavily experiment with “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning.”
Considering all of this, Bugg’s new shift is difficult to criticize. Although his sound has taken a drastic turn and has been mainly met with disdain, Bugg has made his intentions very clear. An artist can’t truly be faulted for attempts at reinvention — it’s simply an occupational hazard.
Although not particularly memorable in the larger pop music sphere, “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning” is a notable work when placed in the scope of Bugg’s discography. It might not be a great album, but it won’t be forgotten.