Billy Bragg - Back to Basics (Cover Artwork)

Billy Bragg

Back to Basics (1987)


I'm kind of surprised to be the first person to review a Billy Bragg album, but I'll admit I'd never even heard of him until Rancid mentioned him in their song "The War's End". Then I heard Lars and the Bastards cover his song "To Have and to Have Not", and I thouhgt it was a cool song with good lyrics. The fact that Bragg was so well-respected by members of my favoite band made me want to find out more about this Billy Bragg. So I went out and bought Back to Basics.

This is a good album. It's a collection of his earliest releases, songs that were released in the early 80s. It took me a couple of listens to get into his style, but it was worth the effort. The only insttuments on this album are Bragg's very British voice and his guitar, but once i got used to that, and started listening to the lyrics, I was hooked.

The songs here fall into two main categories: those dealing with love, and those dealing with politics. Being a politically-mindd punk myself, I enjoyed the political songs more, but there are good songs in both categories. "To Have.." and "A New England were the songs that I really liked the first time through. "To Have.." is the story of a young working class kid with nowhere to go. "Just because you're going forward/doesn't mean I'm going backwards," Bragg sings. "A New England" is Bragg's lament of a lost love and is one of the better songs on the album.

Upon repeated listens, other tracks stand out. "Like Soldiers Do" is Bragg's indictment of Europe's battle-scarred history. "Our fathers were all soldiers/Shall we be soldiers too?" Bragg asks. His cover of the union fight song "Which Side Are You On"(different from the Dropkick mUrphys version) is also very good.

The two best tracks on the album are "Between the Wars" and "The World Turned Upside Down". "Between the Wars" is a working man's plea for peace, and features lyrics that are very relevant today. "I kept the faith and I kept votng/Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand/For theirs' is a land with a wall around it/And mine is a faith in my fellow man/theirs is a land of hope and glory/Mine is the green field and the factory floor/Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers/And mine is the peace we knew between the wars." This is the album's best track, and I do not expect to get tired of it for a long time. "The World.." is an old British song that the British army's marching band played when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. Bragg's voice lends itself well to the anti-elitist lyrics.

Overall, this is a good, not great album, probably because the tracks here were never meant to be released together. Still, this is a very good place to start if you want to get into Billy Bragg. I would recommend this to fans of folk-punk singers like Justin Sane or Ted Leo, and also to fans of the left-wing politics of bands like Dead Kennedys or Propagandhi.