Album: Billy Bragg and the Blokes

England, Half English, Cooking Vinyl
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The Independent Culture

The title track of Billy Bragg's first album of original material since 1996's William Bloke is a Dury-esque celebration of the world's most successful racial and cultural melting pot. "My mother was half English, and I'm half English too/I'm a great big bundle of culture tied up in the red, white and blue," he sings, over a sort of pub-rock Indo-skank that seeks to exemplify some of the musical benefits accruing to the multi-racial society. The apparent confusion here ("red, white and blue"?) between England and Britain is tackled head-on in "Take Down The Union Jack", where he muses on the redundancy of the union and what it means "to be an Anglo hyphen Saxon in", suggesting the English might profitably consult the Scots about how "to take an abstract notion of personal identity and turn it into nationhood". Which seems sensible, but scans terribly – almost as badly as the hook to "NPWA", "No power without accountability!", surely the least singable refrain of the century. In general, Bragg is far more effective when illustrating the political through the personal, depicting things like isolation from materialist society ("Some Days I See The Point"), the loneliness of exile ("Distant Shore"), and the reluctant disposal of one's record collection as a measure of encroaching poverty ("Tears Of My Tracks"). Through it all, his Blokes provide solid support, withspecial honours going to former Small Face Ian McLagan for his varied keyboard coloration.