Billy Bragg - Mr. Love & Justice

Will Metcalfe 08/04/2008

Rating: 4/5

Billy Bragg's latest studio album, 'Mr Love & Justice' is a back to basics affair, whilst you can't exactly accuse Billy of ever straying from his roots the songs here capture him in what you could call his natural environment. It is probably worth stressing though that this environment has strayed from the nasal, stripped out protest songs from the days of yore. Whilst Bragg has not strayed from is skin and bone approach the songs are richer and less hurried than in his youth, and the effect is refreshing.

Always ripe for a clichéd attack, Billy has managed to produce a record that manages, for the most part, to steer clear of the jaded activism for which he is most often derided. That said 'Sing Their Souls Back Home' is almost what his critics may have been praying for, yet say what you will the sincerity is astounding and it's not a half bad song. In recent years it seems slightly cooler to like Billy Bragg, something that seems to have had a positive effect and much of 'Mr Love & Justice' has the same warm, reborn feel of much of Joe Strummer's work with the Mescaleroes. In fact, 'The Beach is Free' could well have been lifted from 'Global-a-Go-Go' in terms not only of the dynamics but also the quality.

Although Bragg has managed to create a record of great substance he could still learn a thing or two about how to name a song; the likes of 'You Make Me Brave' and 'Something Happened' are both bland and clichéd, and the loathsome 'Sing Their Songs Back Home' is embarrassing. This clumsy use of language blights Bragg in terms of his lyrics too, on 'Something Happened' he asks "Do you know what love is", a line stolen straight from Phil Collins. Or at least it could have been. Though you cannot fault Billy's devil may care attitude-which is something that really resonates within the record; the title track sounds like a cross between latter day Bob Dylan and 'Nebraska' era Springsteen, which I would guess, is exactly what 'Mr. Love & Justice' was striving for.

To be frank, this record is not, and will never be cool; but it is both sincere and delivered in such a way that you can't help but like Bragg. At 50 years old his career is an unlikely success a story, an average bloke who can't sing for shit but manages to write some of the most intelligent, moving pop/folk imaginable. Drop your prejudices and give this a chance, it really is rather good.