FROM HIS earliest days with ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’ and ‘Between The Wars’, few artists have possessed Bragg’s ability to write songs possessing intelligent political commentary and a deep, humane, empathy.
Those qualities are on abundant display on his 12th solo album, which may be one of the finest things he has created over the past 20 years. Centering on themes of the post-Trump world, the rise of the alt.right, authoritarian regimes, and internet trolls on one hand, there are also meditations on the need for connection and to reach out; to see things from outside your own perspective; the redeeming power of love; and the importance of family and friends.
The songs are centered in roots rock, Americana, English folk-rock, emotive ballardry (‘I Will Be Your Shield’ ), and even a touch of psychedelic folk-pop (‘Reflections On The Mirth Of Creativity’ ).
The powerful ‘Mid-Century Modern’ channels some of the spirit of Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, but is a contemporary challenge Bragg lays down to his generation, to not become dinosaurs and instead see the ideals of progressive youth as ideals worth embracing ("The kids that pull the statues down/they challenge me to see/the gap between the man I am/and the man I want to be” ).
The rollocking ‘Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained’ is a wonderful skewering of trolls and anti-vaccers (“The new breed of know-nothings are flooding my screen/they scare me they're so goddamn sure” ).
Away from politics, are songs of emotional depth and enormous compassion. It is a hard heart that will not have a tear in the eye as the chorus of voices swell at the end of ‘Pass It On’, while ‘I Believe In You’ should make you run to your loved one and tell them just that.
This is Bragg as his most astute, humane, and inspired. It is very much the album we need right now.
The album is released on October 29. Billy Bragg plays the Black Box Theatre on November 6. For tickets see www.roisindubh.net