We tend to associate Billy Bragg with defiant left-wing political protest; in the 80s he spent a year playing benefit gigs in mining communities and identifies himself as a socialist. None of this has changed, but Bragg’s first studio album in 5 years ‘Tooth and Nail’ takes a step away from his outspoken political views with a collection of more personal songs. The change of tone in ‘Tooth and Nail’, which was recorded over a period of just 5 days, makes for a refreshing and uplifting listen. Heavily influenced by country music, Bragg’s voice takes on a new personality, deeper and mellower than the rough, shouty style vocals we are used to hearing on his earlier albums.
I heard Handyman Blues played live on the radio last week and couldn’t help but crack a smile at its lazy rhythm and perfectly carved lyrics that conjure up an entire photo album of memories. The mention of mundane objects and activities, like curtains, screwdrivers and drinking tea add an aching nostalgia to a song which is simultaneously funny and sad. It is Billy Bragg at his best – instantly charming, touching and witty – with an added country twang. Tooth and Nail is a reminder that Billy Bragg is not merely a political songwriter, but a romantic with the ability to sum up the pain that love, life and relationships can cause in a not-too-serious, self-deprecating way that we can all relate to.
Tooth and Nail is an honest account of his own personal relationships – Bragg has said himself of the album: “I took a long, hard look at who I am and what I do. This album is the result.” This honesty is clear in the track Swallow My Pride.
But it’s not all lovey stuff and Bragg’s political fighting spirit is not completely absent: The defiant There Will Be a Reckoning is, in my opinion, essential listening for us living in austerity Britain circa 2013, with Bragg defiantly stating ‘if you keep this pressure on, just don’t be surprised if I can’t summon up my dignity, while you’re roughing up my pride’ and slams the ‘politicians who led us to this fate.’
But regardless of what you make of Billy Bragg’s political stance, this is a lovely, heart-warming album that will brighten up a rainy day.