THIS IS an extremely austere period: across the eurozone countries are relying on bailouts, and paying for them through massive cuts programmes. Millions of people have been on strike and on demonstrations against such measures. In Billy Bragg’s Britain the ConDem government is carrying out cuts that affect the people it hates – the poor, the unemployed and the disabled in a systematic campaign based on cruelty and ignorance. Meanwhile, in Africa and the Middle East the effects of the Arab Spring are continuing even if the dramas of that monumental period have largely died down.
There is a rich seam of material for Billy Bragg, Britain’s finest political songwriter, to draw upon. This could be Bragg’s finest hour as he rails against the spiteful, narcisstic ruling classes and inspire his followers with tales of inhumanity, and resolve.
What I’m actually listening to, on Tooth and Nail (Cooking Vinyl) is a clutch of songs of love and the personal with a strong hint of country music. I clearly got my hopes up too high. Still, the thought of Bragg becoming a county and western artiste is a little tough to chew.
If the songs were strong I would feel justified in biting my tongue and appreciating the new strength of the writing. But they’re weak, and remind me of Elvis Costello’s painful attempt to write a country album, back in the early 80s.
I can’t deny Bragg the right to pen an album of personal songs, nor of moving into new territory, in fact branching out is pivital to most acts, but the fact is Bragg has established his reputation on his armour of edgy, working class hero songs, reflecting life in the slow lane for millions of people. His voice is not his strongest point, but he has mastered a way of utilising it to maximum effect on songs such as There is Power in a Union or the Johnny Carcinogenic Show, but it doesn’t have the timbre to enact his feelings on, say, Chasing Rainbows. Needless to say, Porky feels deflated.
Still, there’s always next time.