Friday, January 22, 2010

Billy Bragg - William Bloke


Ah, Billy.  Our relationship began all those years ago, on a late-night TV music show, not with any of your recordings but with the vocal stylings of one late-lamented Kirsty MacColl (of whom, I'm freely betting, more will appear here).  Her version of your song  A New England held me transfixed.  In fact, so enamoured was I of Ms MacColl's version, I sneered at yours when I was introduced to it a short time later.

It wasn't until I heard Talking with the Taxman About Poetry - which opens with the delightful Greetings to the New Brunette and also features the transcendant  Levi Stubbs' Tears - that I really understood what you were all about.  But I've always preferred your personal songs to your political ones, despite agreeing with what you have to say, you old-skool lefty.

I've seen you - um, three or four times, can't remember - and for a while there you were one in a whole range of blokes-with-a-guitar I saw back-to-back (Luka Bloom and Elvis Costello also featured as such, I recall).  But William Bloke doesn't have much on it I like.  Everybody Loves You Babe made me smile, and The Space Race is Over echoed my feelings so well - didn't we all dream of walking on the moon?  But generally this doesn't have much in it to warrant keeping it in the collection.

Fear not though Billy, I think your best-of album Must I Paint You A Picture? will be on my to-buy list.  I can see this blog's going to prove expensive, in the end.



If there is such a thing as English country music, then Billy Bragg is definitely one of its biggest proponents, particularly on William Bloke, his eighth album.  Musically, this album moves between quiet, stripped back tunes reminiscent of Randy Newman (with a similar kind of humour too) to mid-tempo numbers.

Lyrically, Billy continues to tread pretty much the same ground he's always done, moving between quasi-political and protest songs to more personal songs about love.  Gone is the raw, raggedness of his earlier releases and in its place is a smoothness in production that, quite frankly, makes it bland and boring.

I like Billy.  He's intelligent, articulate and passionate.  He also enjoys a beer or three. He has a wonderful wit and because of this, his column in Q Magazine is one of the first things I read with each new issue.  As it is, I would love to say I enjoyed listening to this and although I tried hard to, I couldn't. Sorry Billy...


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  1. I disagree as I love this album. Played the CD until it was unplayable.

  2. The wonderful thing about music is its subjectivity - never cease to amaze me what people like and don't (I'm sure some of the stuff I love would make you run from the room screaming)

    Anyway, peace...


  3. Actually, I'm not sure what I think about Billy. All I can remember about his heyday was a joke going around that being his roadie was probably the easiest job in the world!

    Anyway, I'm waiting for the Kirsty MacColl review. Now there's a talent...

  4. I think Billy is one of those artists who are well served by greatest hits collections (apologies to any big Billy Bragg fans).

    As for Kirsty, well Mine would love it if the pointy stick landed on any of the albums we have in our collection.