In my last Birthday Honours List (it’s only imaginary, apparently only the Queen is allowed to do a real one) I awarded Billy Bragg a knighthood for services to music and political agitation.
In my book (Sir) Billy is definitely at his best when he turns the politics down ever so slightly (maybe to 9) and the love songs up a bit – and he gets this balance just about right on his third album ‘Talking with the taxman about poetry’.
Lyrically about as good as Billy gets, this album even includes a tribute to the humble cassette tape on the wonderful ‘Levi Stubbs’ tears’ (you can trust Billy when it comes to apostrophe use!).
I made a checklist of some of my favourite musical things and most of the boxes are ticked comprehensively here, as you’ll see below;
The imaginative use of brass – tick
The presence of Kirsty MacColl – tick
Mrs Mills/Chas & Dave type upright piano tinklings – tick
Constructive use of ‘Jerusalem’ – tick
Name-checking of musical icons – tick
Robotic voice – no tick (sadly)
Billy’s first two albums were powerful examples of angry young manhood, but it’s here that he really comes of age. ‘The marriage’ comes on a bit too strongly, but everything else, even the unashamedly strongly political messages are top class. ‘The warmest room’ and ‘Wishing the days away’ deserving of special mentions in despatches (or dispatches, I’m never 100% sure).
Arise Sir Stephen William Bragg of Barking.
Label – Go! Discs
Year - 1986