In the grand leftist tradition of angry young geeks ranging from Antonio Gramsci to the Clash, British folk antihero Billy Bragg explores the tension between individual creation and collective consciousness by diving headfirst into the contradiction. Caught between punk anger and folk romanticism, between impersonal skepticism and the human touch, Bragg–whose hilariously self-effacing live performances are way less grim than much of his recorded output–has often chuckled about the mock war between the “militants” and the “softies” in his audience. (Not surprisingly, his best songs, from “New England” to “It Says Here” to “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” have always bridged the gap.) Bragg’s new Workers’ Playtime is heaven for the softies, since it drops the chimes-of-chaos guitar technique used in his earlier records in favor of warm and woozy vocals and mostly piano-driven music-hall accompaniment. The results are predictably mixed. At best, the record comes closer than ever before to the revolutionary politics of personal relations Bragg aspires to create; at its worst, Bragg sounds like Alan Alda waving a red flag. I’m amazed that he got Elektra Records to print the slogan “Capitalism is killing music” on the album cover, but this also makes me wonder who is selling whom the hangman’s rope. Will his next be called Turning Money Into Rebellion or Turning Rebellion Into Money? Stay tuned. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Riviera Night Club, 4746 N. Racine; 769-6300.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Pennie Smith.