Bridges Not Walls – EP
Billy Bragg/Cooking Vinyl
The fucking Brexit nonsense and the rise of Trump and general non-thinking must be exciting to someone like Billy Bragg. I’m not trying to be churlish, but imagine how easy it is for him to write songs around that? Well, actually, it has proved fine fodder for songs so far and before you go accusing him of just bumbling out a stopgap thing this EP is a hark back to the socialism and attitude and songwriting of Bragg’s finest.
Look, he’s been making great stuff since, basically forever but I know there’s a certain Bragg fan out there nostalgic for the time/s before William taught himself to sing – actually sing. And Bridges Not Walls reminds, in some sense, of that, the nearly-awkward, but always heartfelt sing-speaking is back.
Great songs too. Brexit is on his mind. Understandably.
So there’s Why We Build The Wall and the lovely Saffiyah Smiles, referencing the strong stance of protester Saffiyah Khan – standing up to redneck racists.
The Sleep of Reason is the kick-of tune here, and we’re told the sleep of reason creates monsters. Well, yes, too late, of course – and Bragg knows that.
There are six songs here – no duds, but he does indeed save the best for last. Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted has Bragg trying his best to explain the flaws in the Neo-Liberal plan, in Capitalism in ignoring socialism’s best vestiges. He’s sung this song before – though never quite like this. The older, calmer, wiser Bragg is just as fucked-off but there’s a sadness in his resolution now, and that’s the (really) palpable part. He knows he’s said this before, we’ve thought this before, he knows it goes on getting ignored.
Full English Brexit is a brilliant closer, one of his finest. If you’ve never liked him there’s no point showing up now, but if you’ve been charmed by his records, disarmed by his performances, impressed by his wit and worldliness then Bridges Not Walls is a tantalising glimpse at what Bragg still has in the tank. A full album of this material soon please! But for now it’s almost full circle, some 35 years on, to that vital great first leap forward.
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