Follow Us on Twitter

Billy Bragg - Mr Love & Justice

Billy Bragg, Mr Love & Justice

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

AFTER celebrating his 50th birthday in December last year, together with the 25th anniversary since his first solo gig, songwriter Billy Bragg kickstarts 2008 with the release of his latest album, Mr Love & Justice.

Produced by Grant Showbiz and featuring Bragg’s band The Blokes, it’s a typically thoughtful record that aims at a lot of targets, but which fails to ignite musically.

Album opener I Keep Faith offers a distinctly low-key start despite featuring backing vocals by Robert Wyatt and Hammond organ from Ian McLagan. It’s an upbeat record by Bragg’s standards, about keeping faith in someone, but it’s a curiously restrained opener that sort of sets the tone.

I Almost Kiled You at least raises the tone with some lively guitar work and handclap beats, with Bragg coming over all Morrissey as he talks about seeing dark clouds where others see rainbows. It’s one of the better tracks on the LP.

But M For Me is another slow-burner that doesn’t really lend itself to many repeat listens.

There’s almost a see-saw effect running throughout the rest of the album, where for every disappointment there’s an effort that helps to rally things.

The Beach Is Free, for instance, is a rockabilly country riot that boasts some terrific guitar backing, while there’s a nice gospel backing surrounding the sincere Sing Their Souls Back Home, which comments on soldiers in Iraq.

But that same sense of earnestness doesn’t work so well on the laboured You Make Me Brave, or the pedestrian rocker Something Happened, which talks of lust and love, whilst imparting life lessons that, quite frankly, appear condescending.

The album seems to be on surer footing when sticking with soul, as Mr Love & Justice once again makes good use of hammond organs and a classic, Commitments-style Northern Soul, while some the singer’s more outspoken politics are reflected in the emotive O Freedom, which explores the theme of extraordinary rendition and asks: “O freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name?”

There’s also a nice pop at the tobacco industry on the shuffling The Johnny Carcinogenic Show – but once again the point threatens to become laboured and nullifies its effect.

Come final track Farm Boy, listeners may be left to reflect on what might have been. Mr Love & Justice is good in places, and should satisfy Bragg’s core following, but it’s muted by his standards and never really comes close to being an essential listen.

Download picks: The Beach Is Free, O Freedom, Mr Love & Justice

Track listing:

  1. I Keep Faith
  2. I Almost Killed You
  3. M For Me
  4. Beach Is Free
  5. Sing Their Souls Back Home
  6. You Make Me Brave
  7. Something Happened
  8. Mr Love And Justice
  9. If You Ever Leave
  10. O Freedom
  11. Johnny Carcinogenic Show
  12. Farm Boy