Wednesday, November 15th, 2006
Tank Park Salute
Probably like many, my favourite Billy Bragg albums would be those from what I call his middle period – 1986’s Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, 1988’s Worker’s Playtime and 1991’s Don’t Try This At Home. On these, he moved away from the “one-man Clash” punk folker approach that defined his earliest works and went for a more produced produced sound with fuller band arrangements. This sonic evolution perfectly complimented his lyrical growth on these records, as he began concentrating on more personal matters in his songwriting, dealing with the politics of relationships as well as government – surely a far more delicate and dangerous terrain.
I had Taxman and Playtime on a single compilation CD, Victim Of Geography and so in my mind they’re less two separate albums than one double-length masterpiece. So when the powers that be decided to split the two albums apart and put the former in the Volume One box set and the latter in the just-released Volume Two, inserting the 1990 protest mini-album The Internationale in the first box instead of taking things in the proper chronological order, well it went against my much more logically-ordered Billy Bragg cosmos. I certainly understand the logic – if they’d included Playtime in the first box it would have been an embarrassment of riches but would have left the second box with Don’t Try This At Home as the only must-have record in the set and almost certainly not worth the price of admission. The way they divvied it up, both sets have loads of crucial material.
After Don’t Try This At Home, Bragg took a half-decade off to be a dad and sadly, hasn’t managed to get his pen back into game shape since. Neither 1996’s William Bloke or 2002’s England, Half English were especially inspiring or inspired and while the Mermaid Avenue records with Wilco were certainly artistic triumphs, they were Woody Guthrie’s songs – not Bragg’s. This isn’t to say that I don’t expect him to never put out a great album again – I’m just saying that it’s been some 15 years since he’s seemed to be in that zone. Which is a while.
But Bragg has been busy in 2006, touring heavily in support of the box sets as well as releasing his first book – The Progressive Patriot. I’ve got a copy and am only a little ways in but so far, it’s a reasonably interesting if a bit meandering memoir and rumination on Englishness, nationalism and multiculturalism in today’s England. I’m currently getting a crash course in the history of the English monarchy. It helps if I read it aloud in a Cockney accent.
But check this out – courtesy of Outside Music, I have one copy of Billy Bragg’s Volume Two box set to give away. This has the four double-disc reissues plus live concert DVD circa 1991 and big fat booklet. To enter, leave a comment telling me your favourite Billy Bragg track – any era – and why. The contest will close at midnight, November 21 so that gives you a week. Hop to it.
Got some media for you – the first few are Volume One-era MP3s provided by Yep Roc. Of the others, one is a live version of a track from Worker’s Playtime, another is the album version that is available as a free download from Billy’s website (but I’m saving you the trouble of going through the whole absurd e-commerce transaction to get it) and the last is a rather ill-advised remix of a song off England, Half English, also available free from the website. Billy Bragg + dance beats = no no no. Plus some of Bragg’s Volume Two-era videos.
CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED – thanks so much to everyone who entered, but congratulations to Nick who was selected as winner.
MP3: Billy Bragg – “It Says Here”
MP3: Billy Bragg – “Greetings To The New Brunette”
MP3: Billy Bragg – “Help Save The Youth Of America” (live)
MP3: Billy Bragg – “Must I Paint You A Picture?”
MP3: Billy Bragg – “Valentine’s Day Is Over” (live)
MP3: Billy Bragg – “Take Down The Union Jack”
Video: Billy Bragg – “Waiting For The Great Leap Forward” (YouTube)
Video: Billy Bragg – “Sexuality” (YouTube)
Video: Billy Bragg – “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood” (YouTube)
Video: Billy Bragg – “The Boy Done Good” (YouTube)
MySpace: Billy Bragg
np – The Acorn / Tin Fist