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|1. New England|
|2. The Man In The Iron Mask|
|3. Milkman Of Human Kindness|
|4. To Have And Have Not|
|5. A Lover Sings|
|6. St. Swithins Day|
|7. The Saturday Boy|
|8. Between The Wars|
|9. The World Turned Upside Down|
|10. Levi Stubbs Tears|
See all 20 tracks on this disc
|2. Cindy Of 1000 Lives|
|3. Moving The Goalposts|
|4. Tank Park Salute|
|5. You Woke Up My Neighbourhood|
|6. Accident Waiting To Happen|
|9. The Fourteenth Of February|
See all 20 tracks on this disc
At any rate, though Bragg has always been chiefly characterised as a political songwriter, his best work has always been that which deals with the politics of the personal: there are few more acute summations of the eternal failure of the male and female to make sense to each other than his "How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?" Bragg's superb love songs and love-gone-wrong songs are well represented here, from the angry, naive scratchings of "The Milkman of Human Kindness" to such older, if no wiser, musings as "Moving the Goalposts" and "Sulk". Curiously, his older, politically motivated songs now feel like they've reacquired an urgency they lacked during a 1990s largely devoid of stark ideological boundaries, when they sounded rather like quaint period pieces. The so-called war on terror and the increasing discomfort about global trade both have ready made soundtracks in "Between the Wars" and "There is Power in a Union". --Andrew Mueller
There is something very, very wonderful and very, very important about Billy Bragg. It is not his political commitment, although that is undeniable. It is something rather more recondite, something that you may wish to call humanity. Whatever it is it vibrates through every track on this wonderful retrospective. From the spine-tingling early love songs, through the Great Leap Forward, through Woody Guthrie, this is the record of one of the great singer-songwriters. Listen to the words and you'll wonder how you ever lived without a bit of Billy. And, while I may disagree with some of the things he says, I am mighty glad that he is there saying them anyway. So should you be. Very few people have the courage.
Each disc has its own atmosphere though, and it's best to consider them individually.
For me, Disc 1 is the star. It's the Billy Bragg I spent my late teens listening to - angry, ironic, lyrics, stripped-down music and an almost visceral reaction to the debris of the Thatcher years. This disc draws heavily on the first three albums and the 'Between The Wars' EP, adding a few welcome extras.
Disc 2 is the poppier, perhaps less confrontational Bragg of the nineties and beyond. Certainly a more accomplished artist, with a finer grasp of pop sensibilities and a wider appeal, but to me something of the raw edge was lost. This disc shows Bragg's mainstream acceptance as something of a pop oddity, and has some astonishingly good songs that the old-style Bragg fans who tuned out after "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry" may have missed first time round.
Disc 3 is really a typical bonus/rarities extra - a completist might buy the set for this, the rest of us will probably find it moderately interesting but the stunning "When will I See You Again" apart it isn't exactly essential.
Can't really give it five stars, because MY definitive Bragg set would essentially be the first three albums and the Between The Wars EP, but it's a very high four.