wed 22/10/2014

CD: Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail | New music reviews, news & interviews

CD: Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail

The personal meets the political on the bard of Burton Bradstock's new album

Bragging rights: The bastard son of Woody Guthrie and Chas & Dave returns

If you want a jolting snapshot of how British pop culture has changed in the last three decades, take a look at the clip below of Billy Bragg singing "Between The Wars" on Top of the Pops in 1985. Even if the old Savile-anchored singles showcase was still around, can one imagine a contemporary singer having a mainstream hit with such a political song today? It makes you want to despair.

Billy Bragg's 13th studio album, Tooth & Nail, seems to suggest that he is similarly troubled by the modern world. Despite their constant threat of nuclear annihilation, somehow the mid-Eighties suddenly seem positively benign and distinctly knowable by comparison to today’s turmoil. As the Barking-bred resident of Dorset sunspot Burton Bradstock croons on "No One Knows Nothing Any More", "what happens if the markets drop?"

Elsewhere he is even more gloomy. On the opening "January Song", he suggests "this is how the end begins" over a lachrymose pedal steel refrain. The music is never upbeat, but its Nashville twang – the album was recorded in California and produced by Joe Henry – draws one in. Bragg's Anglo-American vocals, however, seem to reflect the confusion he currently feels. On "No One Knows Nothing Any More" he assumes an American accent, on "Handyman Blues" he is Chas & Dave's blokey bruvver.

The politest man in protest rock continues to doff his hat to Woody Guthrie, covering the doleful lament "I Ain't Got No Home" with its resonant lyric "the gambling man is rich while the working man is poor". One cannot help noticing that there is not a lot of the sparky Bragg humour here. On “Goodbye, Goodbye” he sounds as if he feels like quitting the fight – "The bells have all been rung, the songs have all been sung". The milkman of human kindness still delivers, but nowadays his pints are slightly curdled.

Watch Billy Bragg perform "Between The Wars" on Top of the Pops

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