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article imageOp-Ed: Fight Songs, a new Billy Bragg album for troubled times

By Tim Sandle     Dec 23, 2011 in Entertainment
Singer-songwriter and social activist Billy Bragg has released an album of contemporary protest songs...and one Christmas song.
Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has issued an album in December containing a mix of protest and polemical songs, which the “Bard of Barking” describes as “Fight Songs”.
Billy Bragg, best known for his songs “Between the Wars” and the song which the sweet voiced Kirsty MacColl covered: “A New England”, has released an album of overtly political songs. Whilst the topics are bankers, wars and the global recession, as the singer is equally as well known for his love songs there is a good balance between the personal and the political.
During the 1980s and 1990s Bragg released a string of acclaimed albums, albeit more noted for his well-crafted lyrics than for this singing. These works included two collaborations with the band Wilco (“Mermaid Avenue” volumes I and II), where Bragg and Jeff Tweedy set a series of unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics to music. In recent years Bragg has been more active as a write (penning “The Progressive Patriot”), journalist and TV pundit, so the release is a welcome return for the singer-songwriter’s fans.
Aside from the score to the anti-racism play “Pressure Drop”, the set of recordings represents Bragg’s first CD release since 2008’s “Mr Love and Justice”.
The new album is entitled “Fight Songs” and it gathers some tracks which Bragg had previously offered as downloads, some re-recordings and some new tracks which were tested out at recent concerts.
The album opens with a new and contemporary track “Never Buy The Sun”. The song is a swipe against the hypocrisy of tabloid journalism in general, although the full wrath is aimed at Rupert Murdoch who owns The Sun newspaper in the UK. Murdoch’s News International company is currently under investigation for phone hacking, as scandal which forced the closure of The Sun’s sister paper The News of the World. One refrain in the song is the line “Scousers never buy The Sun”, which is a reference to the people of Liverpool, many of whom boycotted The Sun when it criticised the people of the city in the aftermath of a football stadium collapse in 1989 (the Hillsborough Disaster).
The second track is another recent song which deals with the corporate greed shown by some bankers. The song is called “The Last Flight to Abu Dhabi”, about a baker fleeing London to preserve his lifestyle. The third song tackles fascism. On “The Battle for Barking” Bragg draws an historical parallel between the 1930s when brown shirt fascists marched through the East End of London to the 2000s when members of the British National Party stood in local elections in the Essex / London area of Barking and Dagenham and were defeated by anti-fascist campaigners.
On the fourth track, Bragg offers a song about the effect of human suffering of war from a personal perspective “The Wolf Covers Its Tracks”. The song includes the verse:
“When they call on their guard,
To justify their attacks,
Just serves to remind me,
The wolf covers its tracks.”
This is followed with another sweep at those in power with “The Big Lie”.
With the sixth song, Bragg re-works an old Lead Belly tune (“The Bourgeoisie Blues”) as the “Bush War Blues”. This is an older song which Bragg put out at the time of the 2003 second Gulf War. Aimed, as the title suggests, at the former US President George Bush, the song aims an element of wrath at “George Bush’s poodle”, a grinning Tony Blair.
The seventh song considers human rights (“Constitution Hill”), whereas the seventh is the philosophical rocker “Old Clash Fight Club Song”, which Bragg originally released under the pseudonym of Johnny Clash (an amusing linkage of Bragg’s mix of roots music with his love of the punk band The Clash). The message of this song is to get through life then “do it yourself” and stick to your ideals.
The ninth song is an older track, again commenting on the Gulf War called “The Price of Oil”. In the song Bragg pays tribute to service personnel “the brave men and women in uniform” but criticises the motivation of western governments to challenge those oppressive regimes where there is something financial or strategic to gain, whilst ignoring others.
The tenth song is a re-working of a 1963 Bob Dylan song (“Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”, which dealt with racism), as the “Lonesome death of Rachel Corrie”, and recounts the tail of the 23-year old peace activist Rachel Corrie who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when protesting on the Gaza strip.
The album closes with Bragg’s first ever Christmas song “We’re Following the Wrong Star”. The song presents a contrast between how a banker and a single-parent will be spending the holiday period in a sideswipe against the rich-poor divide and the government policies for tackling the recession.
In summary, Bragg has served up an album for the current times: a social critique of modern Britain and of geopolitical events. Bragg’s left-of-centre political solutions may not be to everyone’s taste but the issues he raises are real social issues and no one, in this writer's opinion, is better is merging the personal and political as well or as eloquently as Billy Bragg.
The album is available from the usual places including Amazon or iTunes. For more details about the album, go to Fight Songs.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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