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Album Review

It is likely that non-fans will have encountered the tracks on Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy on the re-packaged Back to Basics CD (which also included 1984's Brewing Up with Billy Bragg EP). However, it is useful to discuss this debut in its historical context, for on release in 1983 nobody had encountered anyone like Billy Bragg before. A gruff Woody Guthrie for the post-punk generation, Bragg's heavy Essex accent moderated a singing voice that was anything but operatic. Yet the singer's strident, passionate non-singing provided the perfect conduit for a suite of lyrics that matched polemic with romantic observation. Another important factor in that equation was his technique as a guitarist -- both extraordinarily resourceful and highly rhythmic. Bragg's underrated musicianship was perfect for songs such as "A New England," the album's cornerstone lovelorn track (and Bragg's calling card for many years to come). Sometimes, as on "The Milkman of Human Kindness," the artist succumbs to mawkish sentimentality, but his sheer conviction and empathy with his characters (who seem to be self-analogous) wins through, particularly on the affecting "The Man in the Iron Mask."
Alex Ogg, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. The Milkman of Human Kindness
  2. To Have and to Have Not
  3. Richard
  4. A New England
  5. The Man in the Iron Mask
  6. The Busy Girl Buys Beauty
  7. Lovers Town Revisited