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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 18 March 2002
I was very disappointed with this album. I was looking forward to getting some new material from Billy (after not being too impressed with or interested in the Mermaid Avenue stuff). This is not the Billy of old! Where's the sense of melody? Billy has written some remarkably melodic songs in past years, but they are largely absent here.
Lyrically, no complaints (although some songs are a little obscure). The most annoying aspect of this album is the choice of musical style with many of these songs. Use of ska, calypso, fake-sitar sounds, Ian-Dury-Boots-n-panties style generally don't work and often clash with the lyrical content. I think this album would have been better if it had been just Bill and his guitar.
Disappointed big-time! If you're reading this Billy, concentrate on your abundant skills next time mate: forget about 'World Music', get out your guitar and simply write the brilliant songs that you're capable of, and forget about the Blokes (which is a crap name for a band, BTW!)
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on 26 March 2002
'England Half English' takes a long while to sink in and when it does its just about half good.
There are no tunes that quite match the golden oldies. No Must I paint you a picture, Waiting for the great leap forwards, The home front, New England, Man in the iron mask or Accident waiting to happen.
Some of the forays into a more ethnic sound are half-baked and tokenistic. And I hoped for a bit more irony and sense of perspective from a more 'grown up' Billy, but there you go.
I also saw him live recently and the simplistic sloganeering was cringing at times. Blind followers you would not expect a grown up Bragg to indirectly encourage.
Having said this a world with Bragg, and this new album, is better than one without him.
I'm still fond of the old boy.
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on 12 March 2002
As a Billy Bragg fanatic, it is difficult for me to say just how awful this album is. In fact, it almost breaks me 'eart to listen to it. The songs are crap, there's no other way of saying it and I kinda feel cheated as I always look forward to a new BB album like an excited father expecting a baby. I'm no music expert, but Billy's change of cord/melody on some of the songs is so amateur that it makes me cringe. The political songs - except for Take Down the Union Jack - are well-intentioned but just sound sooooo AWFUL. THose people who claim he can't sing (and there are many of you) will use this album as empirical proof. Has Billy ever written and sung a more awful track than Dreadbelly? It is so bad it really defies belief - I saw him perform it live with the Blokes in Berlin and thought then: please don't even think of putting it on the album. What the hell are half of the songs about anyway?! Why, oh why, does he have to SHOUT on Jane Allen, why does England, Half English sound like a crap karaoke Chas n Dave track when it's supposed to be meaningful, who the hell is Baby Faroukh and is that really a BABY doing the backing vocals?!, who's Judy and lots of other questions that piss me off. As for the 'message' of the album, why does the cover look like an ad for the NF and why doesn't Billy SAY something about it all in the lyrics booklet? The George Orwell quote is just not enough. It's all very annoying. English, Half-baked and badly thought out if you ask me. I know that there will be many Billy Bragg fans out there who will disagree and jump on me head - fair enough - but you're only going to do that to protect your devotion. As much as I love BB, and always have, I can't do anything but throw this album in the bin. I am well gutted.
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on 4 July 2002
After the first 4 or 5 tracks, I was firmly convinced that this was going to be Bragg's best work for years, right up there with Don't Try This At Home. Disappointingly, the standard falls away somewhat after that. In the end, this is just a good Billy Bragg album, rather than a truly marvellous one. Still, there's enough here to keep Billy's many admirers happy, and he's probably not going to win too many new fans at this stage in his career.
Best tracks are the first 5, along with Another Kind Of Judy (strangely reminiscent of Sexuality to my ears). Worst tracks are Take Down The Union Jack (probably the worst song Billy's issued in the last 10 years) and He'll Go Down. Worryingly, the strongest songs seem to be those which are co-written with other Blokes. Is Bill losing it? Hope not - over the years he's been one of our finest songwriters, and there's enough on this album to uphold that reputation.
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on 11 May 2002
The first solo studio album since the immense "William Bloke" - that's a lot to live up to! This album is so nearly very good. Bill's songwriting prowess is beyond doubt and he is backed up by his very sharp backing band "The Blokes". Anyone expecting the usual mix of heartfelt lovers angst mixed with right wing ideology won't be disappointed. He's bang on form with "Distant Shore" and "He'll go down" but the rest just seems a mass of over-produced parody. "Baby Farouk" is just laughable; is that Stephen Hawking on backing vocals? and when he puts his political boots on it's all a bit "been there, heard it all before"; "NPWA" is just painfully laboured. The old subtlety and humour have gone. "Sometimes I see the point" certainly isn't true. I defy anybody to see the point of that track. However, just before it all becomes too disappointing Billy is quite capable of pulling it out of the back and reaching to the converted - just listen to "Another kind of Judy". He is desperate for "Take down the Union Jack" to top the charts for the Jubilee but to release this jumbled political mess is not how his fans, old or new, would like to him portray himself. Married life has mellowed our Bill and he is still capable of writing the most simplistically brilliant songs on the planet. It's a shame he didn't do it this time round. Billy Bragg should be on everybody's essential listening list. Buy "Don't Try This at Home" to hear him at his subtlest, melodic, moving best. A true lesson in songwriting. The boy can do better.
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on 19 April 2013
Billy Bragg at his finest, but with new songs. This is what I expected & what I got. If you concentrate on the lyrics - you will be proud to sing along
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on 20 April 2007
Where one of Britain's finest songwriters sits in 2002 is a curious one.

What to make of new material...

Ian "Mac" McLagan on board with The Blokes gives this album much more body and sound and it actually sounds produced, which in some ways is good.

There are some charming moments here. "St Monday" works rather well and "He'll Go Down" is melancholic and somehow tragic and winsome at the same time. "Baby Faroukh" sounds a little bit lentils and world music but it's sheer energy makes it a winner. "Another Kind Of Judy" is also charming (great lyric "She turned me on to the awful noise of her disappointment and The Pet Shop Boys.") "Tears Of My Tracks" is simple but quite nice.

Where things unwravel a bit is on the worthy trudge of "NPWA" and the quasi-politik of "Take Down The Union Jack." It lacks the poignancy and coherency of Bragg at his political best - "Between The Wars" for example. A little clumsy at best.

"Some Days I See The Point" is hard work but is actually pretty good when you get there, wherever there is...

Worth exploring on the whole, largely consistent but Merry Terry still expects great things from Mr Bragg...
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on 21 May 2014
Awful - by far his worst album. Musically a shambles. Lyrics mainly incomprehensible, or sermons on how we are so nasty to asylum seekers etc. Luckily I only paid £2 for it in a charity shop - unluckily there is a bonus CD with it. He used to be so good at pinning down aspects of English life and proper Old Labour/Union politics. Now it is just politically correct new left/lib 'the indigenous English are all awful and everyone else is wonderful'. Perhaps it is something in the Dorset air - or lack of asylum seekers there to inspire him?
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on 20 January 2002
Relocated with his family to lovely rural Dorset, you'd think Billy might have closed his shutters to the issues facing the world today. The answer, through this album, is a most definite no; Billy's still alive, aware, thinking and caring despite not having the Miner's Strike to rally behind, Tory Government or Apartheid to decry or Cold War to fear. So he gives domestic violence (He'll Go Down), disappointment with the current Government (Another Kind of Judy, ok I may be reading too much into this one...) and uncaring multinational companies (NPWA) the Bragg treatment and as always the words are clear, clever and thought provoking. Interestingly, there's even a song about the problem with the apparent contradictions of being Billy Bragg, political animal and fighter for the underdog, and Billy Bragg, family man, living comfortably surrounded by natural beauty and close to the sea.
A couple of the songs are about his homeland. One's about the falling apart of the kingdom of Great Britain, brought together for financial reasons but now splintering, a fact which is unlamented by Billy. The second, and the one that will probably get more close scrutiny than all the rest put together, is the title track. It is a patriotic song about England which finishes with the line "Oh my country, what a beautiful country you are". However what rescues it from being racist or xenophobic is that the England he refers to is not just Morris dancing, Marmite and bubble n squeak, it's these things plus curry and cappuccino and all the other things that make a multi-cultural country. He also refers to the origins of Britannia, St George and even the three lions of the football team as proof that this is not just a recent development. It's Billy's attempt to reclaim the flag from the hate filled right in an age when being English as opposed to British is being defined following the slow break-up of the UK. It's lyrically stirring stuff and an excellent contribution to the debate.
Musically this is on the whole a fuller sound compared with much of his previous output. Working with others for the Woody Guthrie sessions has brought in new ideas and experimentation. The opener is basically quirky cockney knees-up, Lazy Sunday Afternoon, which in view of the fact that the former Small Faces keyboardist is one of the Blokes is maybe no surprise. England, Half English is a whole world of styles, Jamaican Ska fused with Egyptian and even a spot of Turkish, delivered with an Ian Dury vocal. It works and is apt bearing in mind the point of the song. There's even an uptempo African dance number (Baby Faroukh) which sadly doesn't really come off.
There's a few awful songs on here. The lyrics to NPWA are fine but the music is basically Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, which has to be one of the most loathed tracks of all time. Dreadbelly is pretty silly and Tears of My Tracks is the tale of Billy selling his LPs at a boot fair. As these two are the last two tracks on the album they can be dismissed as filler.
Whilst, overall this won't go down as Billy's best ever work, there's no St Swithin's Day, The Marriage or Sexuality, there's still a fire in his belly and whilst the songs are not instant beauties, there's enough on it lyrically to please the long-term fans, which truth be told are probably the only fans he has now.
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on 23 March 2002
Well Billy has finally wound up his work on the lyrics of Woody Guthrie and set about releasing a new album of his own. And very good it is too, better than Victim of Geography, and just behind William Bloke. Some fans tear their hair out at anything Billy does which isn't just him and his guitar, but many of these songs benefit from the added layers the Blokes bring to them. The weakest points of the CD are the beginning and the end, St. Monday gets it off to a cracking start, but then Joan Allen kills it dead again. Thank fully from Disatant Shore onwards the quality level rises back up again. Yes England, Half English sounds like Ian Dury, but it is a knowing nod. Billy was a fan of Dury's and says he thinks of that track as a more fitting tribute than his contribution to the New Boots and Panties tribute album. NPWA is powerful, it is even more so live and embodies many of the principals Billy stands for. These principals are to some people a turn off from his music, and by blanket ignorance they miss many wonderful songs which are about people not politics. Even a song Take Down The Union Jack relates to how it means nothing to the people anymore. All in all an excellent return and one that gets better with each listening.
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