Billy Bragg – Tooth and Nail

Amidst the glamour and glitter of eighties pop music, Billy Bragg, aka the Bard of Barking stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. He was a genuine protest singer, wearing his left wing, socialist colours proudly, and following a direct lineage from Woody Guthrie through to Bob Dylan as ardent believers that pop music could be used as a weapon to agitate for real and meaningful change in society.

His appearance on Top of the Pops in 1985 was something of a landmark in British popular culture; as the bitterly divisive Miner’s Strike raged across Britain, a fresh faced Bragg took to the stage in the clothes of the working man, eschewing the shallow glitz of the 80s pop star, to deliver a defiant and poignant rendition of ‘Between the Wars’, just one man, an electric guitar, and passion by the bucket load.

Bragg went on to pen hit songs such as ‘A New England’ and ‘Levi Stubs Tears’, songs that have endured to this very day and he has continued to write and record with varying degrees of success for the last two and a half decades.

Tooth and Nail, his first studio album in five years, will surprise those fans of Bragg who lost touch with his music as the eighties drew to a close. Anyone expecting a reprise of the angry young man and his scratchy sounding electric guitar routine may be in for a disappointment – the days of the Billy Bragg of old, belting out his punky, agit-pop in his defiantly unique accent are long gone. Tooth and Nail is a likeable, laid back collection of songs that wears it’s folky Americana influences on its sleeve.

Largely acoustic based, with tasteful slide guitar and simple arrangements, Tooth and Nail lacks the bite of his earlier work; it’s is the sound of a man growing old with some considerable grace, and still with something to say about the world around him. ‘No One Knows Nothing Anymore’ seems to capture Braggs bewilderment at an ever changing society while the theme of displacement and change continues on the beautifully downbeat ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’.

There is a brief flicker of the fiery Bragg of old on ‘There Will Be A Reckoning’ but throughout the album, it is difficult to get away from the fact that this is a Bragg with all the edges smoothed out by the middle of the road production and session musician perfection.


2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)