In a never ending quest for context, I felt I had to hear Billy Bragg speak. In a quick search I heard him give a great quote: “the real problem comes not as being labelled a political song writer but being dismissed as a political song writer —” “—it’s not all politics, life isn’t all politics but it’s part of it and I’m going to talk about it.”
With that I was happy to listen to the album over and over to hear what Bragg had to say about life. (It’s slightly bleak.)
Bragg’s style has very minimal accompaniment, there’s no huge orchestra or layers of complicated rhythms; it’s all about the voice and the lyrics and they are presented in a completely accessible way. Initially there’s something slightly abrasive about the songs, whether it’s Bragg’s very emphasised estuary accent or the very impassioned, deliberate, almost pub style. However; I found myself listening and taking in the lyrics, musing to myself and suddenly we were really far through – I was surprised – I had really warmed to this; it’s pretty damn engaging.
The opening track Greetings to the New Brunette is a great start, and some nice energetic guitar with Bragg’s vocals holding place well. The album does start with one of the catchiest songs and the lyrics:
Sometimes when we’re as close as this
It’s like we’re in a dream
How can you lie there and think of england
When you don’t even know who’s in the team
It’s good stuff!
Ideology is also a great number, with a great lyricism:
They must declare their interests
But not their company cars.
Is there more to a seat in parliament
Than sitting on your arse?
Honestly I could pull great quote after great quote from this album and present them to you here but it’s worth hearing them from the source.
A lot of his songs have a sort of “call to arms” feel, a great example is There Is Power in a Union. This track has a traditional Irish folk feel to it, you practically want to join in his song either from the message or the damn catchiness of the song. Oh and if you hadn’t picked up, some might consider Bragg on the left wing.
Closing this review I also have to recommend Deportees and The Home Front as two personal favourites but I can’t think of a track I disliked. It’s a great album that may not be for every occasion but quite worth the listen at least the once through in my opinion.
Is this album for you?
I’m not going to expect this to be blaring out of a car in the city at 3 in the morning. This is sometimes stoic and sometimes riled folk-styled rock whose structure is uncomplicated. It’s very lyric based and for me quite worth getting lost in. I’d say try and listen through a couple of tracks and get used to it. It’s not totally me but I came away quite happy.
- Writing: 8/10
- Performance: 7.5/10
- Style: 7/10