To be honest, Billy Bragg’s eighth album, “England, half English”, is not my favourite out of all of his work.
In fact, it was downright disappointing given that it was his first new album of new material in five years, this after spending some time resurrecting otherwise lost Woody Guthrie material with American alt-rockers Wilco, and gaining a brand new sector of fans in the US. The album’s promise was also predicated on the news that he was working with a full band again and that said band was to include members of the Faces, The Mekons, and Shriekback. I really wanted to like it… but I didn’t. At least, not all of it. There were a few gems in the heap, though, right? Else I wouldn’t be writing this particular post right now.
Songs like “Take down the Union Jack”, “Distant shore”, and this one, “Some days I see the point”, with more understated instrumentation, just seemed to work better with Bragg’s songwriting style. Where the songs get more playful in arrangements elsewhere, he almost sounds silly. (A case in point for me was that when I heard a more stripped-down, acoustic version of the overwrought “NPWA” and I found it almost palatable.) Maybe I am set in my ways but I feel like Bragg should always sound like it’s him busking on the street corner on his soapbox, rather than jamming as just one of the ‘blokes’ and trying to fit his message in.
Indeed, “Some days I see the point” sees Bragg actually questioning his message. With the slow plodding bass backbone, the tapping drums like wet bare feet amidst the lapping of waves on coastal rocks, the breezy sustained organs, and the gentle plucks at the guitar, Billy is escaping to nature to keep it real. It’s like, even with all the fun and noise on the rest of the record, he’s feeling the weight of the all cynicism and apathy, and questioning his existence.
“Gonna follow the path that climbs up through the trees
Walk along the cliff top and gaze out to sea
I feel free when I come up here
And if it’s clear some days I see the point”
It’s human and it’s sad and I can totally identify.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.