Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Billy Bragg

  • Brewing Up With Billy Bragg [CD, 1984] B-
  • Talking With the Taxman About Poetry [Elektra, 1986] B+
  • Help Save the Youth of America: Live and Dubious [Elektra EP, 1988] B-
  • Workers Playtime [Elektra, 1988] B
  • The Internationale [Elektra, 1990] Dud
  • Don't Try This at Home [Elektra, 1991] Neither

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Brewing Up With Billy Bragg [CD, 1984]
Nice lad, always votes Labour, means well with the girls. So why does he subtitle this modest collection of songs-with-electric-guitar "a puckish satire on contemporary mores"? Some believe he's wiser than he knows. I suspect he's not as smart as he thinks he is. B-

Talking With the Taxman About Poetry [Elektra, 1986]
How could one deny such a fine young man, especially with his harsh guitar and gratifying piano or trumpet reflecting his Clashy lineage when one thinks about it? That depends on how much one resents having to think about it. The lyrics are another matter--they're made to be thought about. Only soon one realizes that the politics, his forte if not his raison d'Ítre, are surprisingly clunky. And that when it comes to the cons and pros of getting married he never misses a trick. B+

Help Save the Youth of America: Live and Dubious [Elektra EP, 1988]
It isn't music that makes Bragg so much fun live, so I'm not surprised that the songs are as flat here as in their studio versions--especially since some of them are studio versions. And live fun feeds on context, so I'm not surprised either that the stage patter translates poorly--especially since Bragg takes the task of translation so literally that he provides the Russian version of his remarks on the Moscow-recorded title tune. The video will no doubt feature somebody signing. B-

Workers Playtime [Elektra, 1988]
He's got a way with a tune and even some money. So maybe it's time to wonder why he has such big problems. Why are women always rejecting him? And why are the people always rejecting him? Not completely, of course--he's a modest success. But in both arenas he falls far short of his putative expectations, and I smell a reason in the barely concealed sob he can't get rid of. From unjust justice all the way to hopeless love, the catch in the throat is kind of seductive--until it starts to stink. This is the voice of a man who expects defeat--not only does he feel born to lose, but he doesn't have what it takes to throw a good wake. So why should the working class follow him to the crossroads? Why should Mary? B

The Internationale [Elektra, 1990] Dud

Don't Try This at Home [Elektra, 1991] Neither