Life’s a Riot With Spy vs. Spy and Brewing Up With Billy Bragg had found Billy Bragg marking out a sonic territory that was a million miles away from the synthetic sounds and plastic production methods that so much 80s music had been blighted with. Having already established his twin songwriting themes of social commentary and loverlorn ballads, Talking With the Taxman About Poetry is the album on which Bragg proved that he had more to offer than the brilliance of his first two releases, and that he was aware that, for his career to continue to thrive, he needed to evolve.
With both feet still securely planted in the sound of his first two albums, Talking With the Taxman About Poetry pointed to where the future lied, and great albums like Workers Playtime and beyond. Enlisting the help of good friends like Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl to thicken the sonic textures, and indulging in a bit of brass by way of Dave Woodhead’s trumpet and flugelhorn playing demonstrated that Bragg could offer the listener a lot more than his immeadiately recognisable vocals, clattering telecaster and his already well established songwriting genius
Lyrics wise, Bragg was at the top of his game, with “Greetings to the New Brunette” deserving to be a far bigger hit that it was, despite no doubt annoying everyone called Shirley now between the ages of 40 and 55, and “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” being one of the most heart-wrenching songs by anyone, ever. Beyond these two Billy Bragg standards, “The Marriage” is one of his finest ‘relationship’ songs and “Ideology” finds him atop his political soapbox for all the right reasons, and if his political beliefs were left in any doubt, his version of the traditional “There is Power in a Union” may very well be definitive. Elsewhere, “Help Save the Youth of America”, got under the collective skin of exactly the people it was intended to get under the collective skin of. It’s this habit of knowing exactly what buttons to press at any given time which has ensured that Bragg continues to be one of our most vital songwriters, why he will always be held in such high regard, and why he is still approached for political soundbites whenever the left leaning among us need a voice on the television.
If you’re a Billy Bragg fan, then Talking With the Taxman About Poetry is among his most vital releases, if however, you’re not a fan, then there’s little to change your mind here, as it’s one of the most perfect distillations of what has made him such a unique songwriter and musician down the decades, as well as one of the musicians I’d most like to have a pint and a chat with.
Nice one Mr Bragg.