Picks and Pans Review: Talking with the Taxman About Poetry

updated 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Billy Bragg

British rocker Billy Bragg subtitled his latest release "the difficult third album." Coming from another musician, that self-mocking warning might be a turnoff, but from Bragg, it's just a reassurance to fans that he hasn't changed. Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, a name taken from a Vladimir Mayakovsky poem printed on the record sleeve, is the most outspoken album to date by an already very political singer. The East London-born Bragg's approach to British social problems recalls that of such classic American folk singers as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. There Is Power in a Union applies Bragg's rousing pro-union lyrics and forceful delivery to a traditional melody. Ideology asks, "Is there more to a seat in Parliament/ than sitting on your arse?" Help Save the Youth of America warns Yanks that if they allow Europe to crumble, the U.S. will soon collapse too. But Bragg's issues are not always so public. He applies his usual bluntness in an argument for premarital sex, The Marriage. "Marriage is when we admit our parents were right," he sings, while implying that his parents were wrong. Some may say Bragg bowed to commercialism by augmenting his usual solo guitar with horns, a piano, guitar by the Smiths's Johnny Marr and backup vocals by Kirsty MacColl. But Bragg has managed to use those effects as filigree without dimming the energy or expressiveness of his guitar or his strong, cockney voice. Even on Greetings to the New Brunette, a song slick enough to put Bragg on the U.S. pop charts for the first time, he finds a political side to love: "Shirley, your sexual politics has left me all of a muddle/ Shirley, we are joined in the ideological cuddle." Sexy without being lewd, funny without being sophomoric, political without being self-righteous, Bragg is a pleasure even when he's difficult. (Elektra)

From Our Partners