Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Billy Bragg Life's a Riot With Spy Vs Spy

Get It At Discogs

Billy Bragg launched his career as a recording artist in 1983 with Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, a seven-song EP that somehow sounded modest and wildly ambitious at the same time. Recorded fast, rough, and cheap (and often sounding like it), Life's a Riot presented Bragg as an unlikely cross between Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer -- one guy with a handful of songs, a powerful belief in the common people, and a big distorted electric guitar, blasting out songs about love and politics just loud enough to drown out the street traffic and the chatter at the pub. While the straight-to-stereo recording doesn't always do Bragg any favors (especially his warm but rough-edged bellow of a voice), the results put the emphasis squarely on the songs, and they're good enough to merit the scrutiny. While Bragg was willing and able to write marching anthems ("To Have and Have Not"), he was just as interested in the ongoing war between the sexes, as folks on the block either look for love ("The Milkman of Human Kindness") or try to figure out what to do once they've found it ("The Man in the Iron Mask"), and while he wasn't above pointing out the foibles of others, Bragg's best songs spoke about the details of everyday life with clarity, compassion, and genuine humor. Running just a shade over 16 minutes, in its original form Life's a Riot was short and simple, but it made clear that Bragg was inarguably a first-class songwriter. In 2006, Yep Roc Records reissued Life's a Riot in expanded form with the addition of an 11-track bonus disc (though the two CDs combined include less than 45 minutes of music, making one wonder why they didn't slap all the songs on a single disc). The bonus disc is dominated by six outtakes from the Life's a Riot sessions, and a few early demos and home recordings. The alternate unreleased version of "Strange Things Happen" and both takes of "The Cloth" are especially interesting, as they feature Bragg accompanied by a low-tech drum machine, suggesting his "guitar/vocal" style was not set as strongly in stone as imagined early on (the same can also be said of the phased-out guitars on the outtake of "This Guitar Says Sorry"), though the fact this stuff went unreleased for so long makes it clear Bragg knew what worked best and what didn't. However, crackling covers of "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend" and "Route 66" (the latter given an Anglocentric remake as "A13, Trunk Road to the Sea") close out the bonus CD in style, and make for a solid repackaging of a fine record.

1 comment:

Moderator said...

thank you
love Sir Bill, his early stuff was best!

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