My beloved and I recently bought a boxed set of Billy Bragg's reissued first four albums, with a DVD of live performances in East Germany and Socialist Nicaragua. These records cover the years when he essentially played and recorded on his own, with no band. Many would suggest that with Billy Bragg what you want is just him and his electric guitar; these recordings mostly give you just that.
Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy is Mr Bragg's first album, from the early 1980s when the UK was in the grip of the Thatcherite revolution. Although one tends to think of him as mainly a political songwriter, most of the tracks here are love songs, or songs about love. The most striking of these is 'The Man In The Iron Mask', an oblique account of one locked into a dependent relationship with an unfaithful partner. The most overtly political track ('To Have and to Have Not') is very evocative of the early 1980s – factory closures, mass unemployment, a sense of futures closed down.