Billy Bragg’s first full album since Workers Playtime, an album which saw him change his style to something a little more mainstream than clattering his battered Telecaster and delivering his love them / hate them vocals (personally I’ve always been charmed by his rampantly untutored vocal stylings) with assistance from a few select collaborators (step forward Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl), Don’t Try This at Home could be viewed as Bragg’s attempt at a pop album. Sure, it was a pop album with social and political messages woven through it, but hey, this Billy Bragg we’re talking about here, what did you expect?
Don’t Try This at Home finds Bragg on potent lyrical form, from the rattling “Accident Waiting to Happen” and “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood” (on which he is ably assisted by half of R.E.M.), to more reflective material like “Moving the Goalposts” and “God’s Footballer”, it’s evident the increased sophistication of his sound did not have an adverse effect on his way with words. He wasn’t going to let the broadening of his sound alter the fact that he still had a lot to say on a wide range of subjects, as “North Sea Bubble” and “Tank Park Salute” ably demonstrate. Best of all though is “Sexuality”, a song which genuinely needed to be written in the early 90s and remains relevant today. “Sexuality” is deservedly Bragg one of his biggest hit singles outside of his charity work and collaborations and it remains one of the most vital songs of that era.
If Don’t Try This at Home has a failing, it’s that it’s perhaps just a touch too long. At just shy of an hour, it remains lengthiest studio album to date and that suggests that maybe Bragg’s quality control wasn’t quite as high as it maybe could have been, though the fact that I struggle to suggest which song(s) maybe need to be edited or disposed of entirely, perhaps indicates that this is more about my personal preference for shorter, punchier albums, as opposed to sprawling statements.
Don’t Try This at Home found Billy Bragg in rude health at the start of the 90s and confirmed that although Margaret Thatcher was no longer leader of the Conservative Party, we all still very much needed Bragg as a voice of reason in 90s Britain.