Billy Bragg – Don’t Try This at Home

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This album came out when I was in college, and I was thrilled – THRILLED – to learn that Johnny Marr had co-written the excellent single from it, “Sexuality.” I was disappointed that he was not in the music video, however. On the one hand, the album cemented Bragg’s move away from his early sound, but on the other, it was a return to form, with some of his sharpest songwriting in years and a trio of vigorous protest songs. I really thought this album was going to do better than it did, but it was released the same month as Nevermind, Use Your Illusion I & II, and Badmotorfinger (as well as a month after Ten), and never had a chance.

What I Think of This Album

Really, this was the album that should have made Bragg a star. And that was probably the goal, coming three years after the muddled Workers Playtime; here, he completes his transition from rough hewn punk-folkie to literate, witty pop craftsman, and with a bevy of famous guests to boot. While a tad overlong at 16 tracks – this would’ve been outstanding whittled back to 12 songs – Bragg finally hits the sweet spot of matching his songs with the appropriate full band arrangements.

If some of the early fire is dialed back, it is not completely absent as on Playtime, and Bragg shows he is still capable of spitting out “fascism” with unmatched disgust and vitriol. In fact, rousing opener “Accident Waiting to Happen” comes across as a statement of purpose, with Bragg combining his obsessions – love and politics – in the rare song that doesn’t focus on one or the other; why the narrator would be in a position to have to end it with a “dedicated swallower of fascism” in the first instance goes unaddressed, however. “Cindy of a Thousand Lives” – inspired by feminist photographer Cindy Sherman – is a verdant, almost orchestral-pop number, with Johnny Marr of the Smiths on guitar and Kirsty MacColl singing backup. Peter Buck and Michael Stipe appear on the unusually rustic “You Woke Up My Neighborhood,” which was co-written by Buck.

The most bizarre choice, though, is to bury the standout “Sexuality” in the nine slot, on the second half of the album. Featuring Marr’s unmistakable jangle, this sex-positive ditty is fun and clever and lighthearted; MacColl also sings harmony on this should’ve-been hit. Equally clever is the rueful “Mother of the Bride” in which Bragg laments blowing his chance with the now-wedded woman of his dreams (“I saw her at the hardware store / He looked boring and she looked bored / It’s nice to know that someone was on my side / Best wishes to the mother of the bride”).

“Tank Park Salute” is a touching tribute to his father, and “North Sea Bubble” is a throwback to his early sound, with an energetic ’50’s style guitar attack and a biting critique of capitalism, and reference to Edwin Starr (“War! / What is it good for? / It’s good for business”). Bragg tackles the resurgence of fascism in Britain (“And they salute the foes their fathers fought / By raising their right hands in the air”), as well as the complacency of the culture that accepts it, on the angry “The Few” to stirring effect. Elsewhere, “Body of Water” and “Moving the Goalposts” are solid songs.

The covers don’t do much for me – including a song about the US internment of citizens of Japanese descent co-written by Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders – and some of the slower numbers, like “Trust” and “God’s Footballer” really could have been cut. But overall, this is a strong album that proves that Bragg was much more than just a busker with an above-average vocabulary.

Tangent:  engineer Victor Van Vugt went on to produce albums by Luna, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, P.J. Harvey, and Mojave 3. Also, cellist Julia Palmer eventually played with Cinerama.

The Best Thing About This Album

How many songwriters will reference Serbian soccer team Red Star Belgrade and nuclear submarines, and also rhyme “Robert DeNiro” with “Mitsubishi Zero,” while in addition touching upon masturbation? I don’t know, but Billy Bragg did – and thanks to Johnny Marr for making it sound delightful – in the excellent “Sexuality.”

Release Date

September, 1991

The Cover Art

The color scheme is terrible and the undecipherable cartoons – a study of the liner notes reveals that each is attached to a specific song – are confusing. The font for the album title is good. But otherwise, this is a disaster of a cover.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑