On first listen, it seems Tooth and Nail is giving your ears a big, cosy hug. The album’s sound is a continuation of the Mermaid Avenue sessions Bragg and Wilco did together 1998-2000; as a big Wilco fan myself this was warmly welcomed. The original rough voice and guitar work, which defined Bragg in the 1980’s has now been swapped for a more Country sound, with a backing band and soothing, tender vocals.
The only problem is, after the cosy hug effect of the album wore off, it all seemed a bit bland. The tracks definitely aren’t bad, but there’s none of the strong rhythm and passion, which originally made Billy Bragg so great. The album is something like having a burger bun with some great relish but halfway through eating it you realise there’s not much actual burger in there.
Bragg is now writing music in a post-Thatcher era. On the track ‘No One Knows Anything Anymore’, when he makes reference to the ‘blind leading the blind’ he’s talking about the Large Hadron Collider, not Maggie and Ronnie. Although his songs have always been about other themes (such as love) as well as politics, the album has a slight sense that Bragg is less sure of what he’s singing about in the year 2013.
As Bragg gets older and the world around him changes he undoubtedly has to find a new way to define himself- whilst we associate angry young men with progression, angry old men are generally filed next to grandparents ranting at Christmas dinner. So it’s all pretty justified that, as time passes, Bragg changes both his singing style and the topics of his songs. However, listening to Tooth and Nail you’re left feeling that his change is heading in the right direction, but he’s just not found an area that works for him yet.
…Ian has been listening to The Strypes – I Wish You Would…