Rhythm & Views

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg's first new record in six years has a perfectly apt title. Mr. Love and Justice himself has been composing and performing songs about matters of heart and governance for more than 25 years. Bragg has never been the most protean of musicians, and this album breaks no new ground. What it does do is show that Bragg has lost neither his commitment to his ideals nor his knack for writing fantastic songs.

The opening track, "I Keep Faith," is a rallying cry against the temptations of cynicism in the political forum, followed by "I Almost Killed You," an elegiac tale of how the same cynical beliefs have soul-crushing results on a romance. The album proceeds in this manner, with a thoughtful mix of songs that explore the personal and political struggles all sentient beings encounter.

Bragg has mellowed a bit, as demonstrated by "M for Me," an unexpectedly mawkish track from the artist dubbed "the one-man Clash." But the rest of the album proves there's plenty of indignant fire left. One of Bragg's strengths is his ability to make the dreaded "message song" non-cringe-inducing while still getting the point across. That skill is on display with the amusing "The Johnny Carcinogenic Show," about the evildoers of the tobacco industry. Who else could make a song containing a chant of "poverty is toxic" such a fun ride?

Mr. Love and Justice might not be the freshest new thing, but this world needs Billy Bragg and his unwavering commitment to humanistic politics and quality songwriting.

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