Album: Billy Bragg, Mr Love & Justice (Cooking Vinyl)

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The Independent Culture

The title neatly defines Billy Bragg's interests as a songwriter – romance and equality – though with a few exceptions, he's covered both with far greater vitality before.

One doesn't have to be a war-crazed hawk to find "O Freedom" laboured and rather patronising; likewise, even the blessed Freda Payne would struggle to enliven Bragg's bring-the-boys-home anthem "Sing Their Souls Back Home". And the album's lead-off single "I Keep Faith" is such an underwhelming affirmation of love that it ends up sounding insincere; "You Make Me Brave", set to a descending chord-structure, is a more effective take on the same theme.

The most potent pieces are "I Almost Killed You", a cajun/flamenco-flavoured song about the pressures our affection can impose on others, and "M For Me", a languid number set to what sounds like bass dobro and mandolin, which contains the album's neatest lyrical equation: "Take the M for Me and the Y for You out of Family, and it all falls through". But nothing can make up for "The Johnny Carcinogenic Show", an anti-tobacco-industry attack every bit as cringeworthy as the title suggests.

Download this: 'I Almost Killed You', 'M For Me', 'You Make Me Brave'