Barking’s most famous son, Billy Bragg is a singer/songwriter is somewhere between Bob Dylan, a Doc Marten boot and an Alan Bennett novel.
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry is Bragg’s 3rd album and the one that launched him into the hearts of lefties everywhere, The Socialist Worker and most people gathering round a fire bin.
The themes running through the album include the coming of age of young men and moving from the antics of youth to the responsibilities of family, the politics of Thatcher and unrequited love. All this is brought to life by Bragg with a faithful Rickenbacker with rich, biting chords, jangling arpeggios, cascading chiming riffs and the rallying voice; thick with a gruff diamond Essex punch.
Bragg has always had the wily-Essex spirit, famously opportunistic in his purchase from a local curry house to satiate a hungry John Peel and swap a biryani for airplay of his record. This helped get his name on the map and the rest is history.
The album opens with the sensational ‘Greetings to the New Brunette’ – An anthem to touch the heart and soul of any young man with the impending fear and apprehension of becoming a father, leaving their questionable career choices and entering a new chapter in their life. The essence of Bragg is capturing the bitter sweetness of these moments – Picturing the fear but also joy of these milestones with belting melodies and poetic lyrics
The people from your church agree
It’s not much of a career
Trying the handles of parked cars
Whoops, there goes another year
Whoops, there goes another pint of beer
Here we are in our summer years
Living on ice cream and chocolate kisses
Would the leaves fall from the trees
If I was your old man and you were my missus
A hooligan, a beautiful girl, the moments of joy and love….transitioning to the mundanity of family life. This theme runs again with ‘The Marriage’ and is an ode to a new life of domesticity.
In addition to the journey of a young man, the awakening of politics and the crash of Thatcherism, the ‘loadsamoney’ generation and the attack on the working man looms large. Ideology, Levi Stubbs Tears, There is power in a union and help save the youth of America cover the spectrum of political thinking at the time. Bragg manages to deliver a message, but never with lecturing or sanctimony…just with fantastic tunes and the power of belief.
In my opinion, Billy Bragg was the natural heir to Bob Dylan, principally owing to the political earthquake that created the two artist’s canvases.
This album deserves to be here as few others capture in such pictorial detail and wonderful imagery which is spoken not only from the heart, but standing on a desk, waving bits of paper angrily.
Bragg went onto produce many other anthems on politics, social issues and love…good ones though. He remains a prominent speaker and leftist, going for the throat and speaking with great examination on many public affairs platforms.
- Song of the album: Greetings to the new brunette
- Score: 4/5