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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New England, 15 Jun 2007
By 
Kevin Clarke "kevin17566" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
It's hard to convey to people just how AUDACIOUS this record was when it was first released. Spandau Duran were spending tens of thousands of pounds on videos and then suddenly this big-nosed bloke with an unashamed Essex accent appears armed with JUST A GUITAR and nothing else.

Seething with anger and sexual frustration, Billy's songs spoke to the young and alienated for whom the Thatcher revolution meant nothing.

The opening song, 'The Milkman Of Human Kindness', is a 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' for the post-punk generation - "If you are lonely, I will call/ If you are poorly, I will send poetry."

'To Have And To Have Not' is a defiant and dignified anthem for the millions of unemployed at the time. Lyrically, it's unsophisticated but sheer conviction carries it through.

'Richard' is a razor-sharp riff on the arbitrary cruelty of young love -"Neil belongs to love/And love belongs to no man/How can he go on/When no one answers the adverts in his mind?"

The title of 'A New England' leads us to expect an impassioned 'state of the nation' polemic: Billy wrongfoots us though by making it a tender, very personal love song - he's NOT looking for a new England, just looking for another girl.

'The Man In The Iron Mask' is desolate and haunting, an unflinching portrait of betrayal - "The nights you spend without me, this house is like a dungeon/ And you only return to torture me more."

'The Busy Girl Buys Beauty' is a satirical song about the pressures placed on young girls by the fashion industry to conform and look beautiful, a debate still going on today.

The only disappointment is 'Lovers Town Revisited' which is way too short, almost an afterthought. Let it not colour your view of the album as a whole though. "Life's A Riot..." was a valuable and much-needed antidote to the prevailing musical and cultural values of the time.

And you never saw Billy sporting a mullet and a jacket with the sleeves rolled-up either.........
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Original And The Best, 1 Mar 2006
This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
Life's a riot was a coming of age record for me and so this review is tainted with the sentimentality of adolescence seen from middle age.
Appearing during a low point in UK music history Bragg took the music back to basics - just him and an electric guitar. His broad Essex accent increases the coarse appeal and accentuates the reality of songs that dip into disappointment but never despair. It's all good - and in just seven songs it should be - and that's not something you can say about any subsequect BB album.
20 years on from its original release the songs are still good and the lyrics don't age.
If you like music cut back to the raw and full of emotion this is a great BB album to have.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life's a Riot With The Bard of Barking, 22 Mar 2008
This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
`Life's a Riot with Spy vs. Spy' screams for attention with the same originality today as it did in 1983. The `Urban' folk music of Billy Bragg has never gone out of fashion, it was famously, never in fashion and this debut album is a timeless reminder of the electric troubadour who would later dub himself `Johnny Clash' arrived fully formed like the `Milkman of Human Kindness' personified.

The songs still stand up today particularly the classic `New England', The Busy Girl Buys Beauty', `Lovers Town Revisited' and `To Have and To Have Not' which is unfortunately as relevant now as it was twenty five years ago. That these seven songs were put out on `Utility' as the last defining act of Charisma Records before being assimilated into a major label shows the spirit of the time and I'm not convinced an act as unique as Billy Bragg would ever get out of the endless pages of MySpace these days.

The bonus disc adds to the beauty of the album with `A13' and the John Cale cover `Fear is a Man's Best Friend' being rescued from BBC sessions. Songs that failed to make the cut such as `Speedway Hero' are possibly too derivative to have been issued initially but the passage of time makes these essential listening. The original takes of `The Cloth' and `Strange Things Happen' are again essential, showcasing the drum machine Billy initially dueted with under the stage name `Spy vs. Spy'.

If I had to make a criticism of this re-issued classic it would be the re-mix of Barney Bubbles artwork which was a work of art and a classic design, the perfect wrapper to the perfect sampler.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Guthrie, 5 July 2009
By 
Guy Peters - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
Bursting on the scene with copies of Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory, the collected works of Mayakovsky and The History of Labour in the UK in his backpack, Billy Bragg's appearance was as suitable as Woody Guthrie's final breakthrough in the early `40's. While Guthrie's land was still recovering from the Great Depression, Britain - or the UK if you will - wasn't doing too well, with poverty and unemployment affecting thousands of people of all classes. Forever hesitating between, or even better, trying to reconcile love and politics, sentiment and rage, Bragg was both the sentimental romantic and the keyed up agitator at the same time. While there had already been a band that expressed dissatisfaction in a similarly indignant and striking way (The Clash), Bragg was a man completely his own from the beginning onwards. He'd already been around since the late `70's and by 1983, his style was already fully realized, even though a first listen might have you suspect the songs are only rough demos. Like many other protest singers, Bragg only relies on his voice and guitar, but even though his singing is quite rudimentary (I don't even know whether you'd call this singing), his spoken/sung-delivery found a perfect fit in his clattering, slashing and very rhythmic style of guitar playing. This guy wasn't interested in creating a warm fuzzy tone for his bloated lyrics: it was all about accompanying the socialist critique with undistorted, jagged played that didn't obstruct the messages, but underlined them.

At a mere seven songs and 16 minutes, Life's a Riot is a short release, but as a protester's pamphlet, I'd say it's the ideal length to make a sizeable impact, and not too long to get boring. Because his political songs are often quite accusatory, it's unavoidable that several years later, they're not quite as applicable anymore and certainly for a Belgian like me, a lot of references are probably obscure. However, themes like unemployment are of every era and lines like "The factories are closing and the army's full, I don't know what I'm going to do" (from `To Have and Have Not") are pretty clear. While it's quite reminiscent of The Clash's "Rudy Can't Fail," and bears a title referring to an American novel, Bragg turns these elements into a personal advantage, addressing class clashes and threatening poverty. Elsewhere, Bragg expresses his disgust for violence and conformity in the 77 seconds of "Lovers Town Revisited," paints a miniature picture of a society obsessed by material appearance ("The Busy Girl Buys Beauty"), promises his unconditional loyalty to his beloved ("The Milkman of Human Kindness") and comes up with an impressive, dejected ballad about lost faith and loneliness, "The Man in the Iron Mask." The most impressive track here, and still the man's signature song, is "A New England," a song that not only cops its rhythmic start from Eddie Cochran's "Come on, Everybody" (or is that "Summertime Blues?), but also succeeds in merging his charming naivety with idealism. He may say that he doesn't want to change the world and isn't looking for a New England - just looking for another girl, but everything - from the title, the passion and lines such as "I loved you then as I love you still, I put you on a pedestal, but they put you on the pill" betray his far-reaching intentions. You can avoid Billy Bragg's work if you're only interested in hearing the familiar, unworldly rock that poses less questions, but if you're looking for a fix of fervent energy and simple emotion, then why not get back to basics with Billy Bragg?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless album, 29 Jun 2013
By 
albean (east yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
Bought this for my 16 year old son as part of his musical "education". He loves it as much as I did when I bought it on vinyl nearly 30 years ago!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Billys Best, 19 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
Fantastic stripped down classic Bragg... one of my all time faves for many diff reasons... the lyrics are heartfelt and come from experience, a great sound
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5.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Bill's Early Days, 3 Feb 2012
This review is from: Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (Audio CD)
One of the most amazing debut albums of all time. Largely just Mr Bragg and a guitar, it's as honest, heartfelt and different as it ever was. A must buy for all Billy Bragg fans, and an important addition to any punk's collection.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rough around the edge album with edge, 4 July 2001
billy bragg has to be one of the best song writers for his generation and though iam not of that generation, his songs of young love are as true as they way he whacks his guitar. 'a new england' is a great sing a long song, and 'man in the iron mask' is a fantastic ballad from such a serious socialist.
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