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Must I Paint You a Picture: Essential Billy Bragg

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 28, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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Media Type: CD
Street Release Date: 10/28/2003

Must I Paint You a Picture is a generous, two-disc, 40-track survey of Bragg's career to date. The tracklisting was apparently assembled with the help of Bragg's fans, who were asked to vote for their favourites on Bragg's website, but this democratic initiative has only been taken so far: while "Little Time Bomb", for example, was a more popular choice than, say, "The Boy Done Good", the latter is included and the former isn't. It would, of course, be uncharitable to suggest that this is reflective of the authoritarian instincts that lurk inside most socialists.

At any rate, though Bragg has always been chiefly characterised as a political songwriter, his best work has always been that which deals with the politics of the personal: there are few more acute summations of the eternal failure of the male and female to make sense to each other than his "How can you lie there and think of England when you don't even know who's in the team?" Bragg's superb love songs and love-gone-wrong songs are well represented here, from the angry, naive scratchings of "The Milkman of Human Kindness" to such older, if no wiser, musings as "Moving the Goalposts" and "Sulk". Curiously, his older, politically motivated songs now feel like they've reacquired an urgency they lacked during a 1990s largely devoid of stark ideological boundaries, when they sounded rather like quaint period pieces. The so-called war on terror and the increasing discomfort about global trade both have ready made soundtracks in "Between the Wars" and "There is Power in a Union". --Andrew Mueller

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. A New England
  2. The Man In The Iron Mask
  3. THe Milkman Of Human Kindness
  4. To Have And To Have Not
  5. A Lover Sings
  6. St Swithin's Day
  7. The Saturday Boy
  8. Between The Wars
  9. The World Turned Upside Down
  10. Levi Stubbs' Tears
  11. Walk Away Renee
  12. Greetings To The New Brunette
  13. There Is Power In A Union
  14. Help Save The Youth Of America
  15. The Warmest Room
  16. Must I Paint You A Picture
  17. She's Got A New Spell
  18. The Price I Pay
  19. Valentine's Day Is Over
  20. Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Disc: 2

  1. Sexuality
  2. Cindy Of 1000 Lives
  3. Moving The Goalposts
  4. Tank Park Salute
  5. You Woke Up My Neighbourhood
  6. Accident Waiting To Happen (Red Stars Version)
  7. Sulk
  8. Upfield
  9. The Fourteenth Of February
  10. Brickbat
  11. The Space Race Is Over
  12. The Boy Done Good
  13. Ingrid Bergman
  14. Way Over Yonder In The Morning Key
  15. My Flying Saucer
  16. All You Fascists Bound To Lose (Blokes Version)
  17. NPWA
  18. St. Monday
  19. Somedays I See The Point
  20. Take Down The Union Jack (Band Version)

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 28, 2003)
  • Original Release Date: 2003
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Elektra / Wea
  • ASIN: B0000DD53H
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #272,917 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Walker VINE VOICE on March 18, 2004
Format: Audio CD
I have every Billy Bragg album except this one, and the rare stuff on the third disc is tempting me to correct that oversight. Record companies take note - that's how a Greatest Hits album is supposed to work!
For those unfamiliar with Billy Bragg, his music may be best summarized as "acoustic punk", but he has experimented with numerous styles over the course of his twenty year career. This three CD set collects them all, in a rough chronological order. Disc one begins in Thatcherite Britain: you can picture Billy sitting in a smoke-filled pub belting out coarse folk tunes and love songs with tender quirky lyrics; we then follow him outside into the middle of the poll tax riots, with socialist anthems and rich ballads that tell stories of heartache and broken dreams. Disc two starts at a time in Bragg's career I'd rather forget, the Britpop period, but thankfully the salvation of the later 1990s soon follows. Here he returns to familiar themes - disillusionment with the state of the world, left wing Utopianism, and, of course, love - but the music is more sophisticated and polished. There's even a few Woody Guthrie covers thrown in for fun (and to remind us of his politics). Disc three is made up of remixes and rarities I've only ever heard live or bootleg, which is why I'm going to break down and buy the album!
Regardless of your politics, it's hard not to be moved by songs like "Levi Stubbs' Tears" or "The Space Race Is Over", or to reminisce about relationships gone sour over tracks like "The Price I Pay". Billy Bragg is truly a prolific artist, with a poet's soul and a bleeding heart, and this collection of his work is, as the title says, ESSENTIAL.
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Bragg's tune, "No Power Without Accountability" sums up his political perspective absolutely accurately, and in this collection, his career is summed up just perfectly. This is a writer who puts his head and his heart on the line. Art as politics blazes through his skewering of the western world. While his neo-socialist underpinnings seem at times dated ("Great Leap Forward"), you need to keep in mind that it was no accident that he should turn to Woody Guthrie and in partnership with WILCO essay some of America's heartland-poet's unfinished songs in so compelling a manner. Like Ireland's Andy Irvine, Bragg has taken to the road for the common man. Fatcats of either white or blue collar are pilloried, their efforts at exploiting those who have entrusted them with power are stripped of the rhetoric designed to feed people what they want and laid open as lies meant to enrich the prevaricators. For all the vitriol, there is an incredibly human voice that touches the heart as well as fires the mind.
Besides all that, Bragg can write a damn fetching tune. For all the rhetoric, he can turn around and write something as emotionally honest as "Somedays I See The Point," one of the greatest songs ever written. His early resetting of "Just Walk Away Renee" is shear (you'll get it) genius. There is a lot to consider here and it is all worth the investment of your time. WILCO, The Blokes, his solo stuff: all are delivered with a sense of commitment. The third disc presents some rarities, including a cut from a radio show in Philadelphia that misrepresents its xenophilic title by content. Nonetheless, Bragg is just brilliant with his "Rhyme or Reason." It's irrelevant whether you embrace his politics.
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All "best ofs" should be this good. Top-notch material in chronological order, with a better flow than any of his proper albums. There simply are no bad songs here. Some won't like his voice, some find him too sentimental - I give him points for sincerity and doing exactly what he wants for over 20 years. Intelligent pop music? Yes, it's possible. A great collection.
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Based upon the fact that I only knew two songs ("New England" and "To Have and Have Not"), buying these CD's was a huge gamble. Not only did I find out upon purchasing it that I like Billy Bragg, but I discovered I LOVE Billy Bragg. This collection is not only a comprehensive and fairly complete sampling of his work, it is also a set of three albums, astounding unto themselves.

The first disc is more bare-bones than the other two (and my favorite) featuring Bragg's characteristically clever songwriting and sparse musical accompaniment. This is of course, not without exception, most notable the fuller sounding "Great Leap Forwards", among several others.

The second disc is a slight departure from the aforementioned sound, without deviating completely from Bragg's traditional style. More instruments, more production. My personal favorite from this one is "Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key", which features backing vocals from a woman who sounds uncannily like Natalie Merchant to me...however, I could easily be mistaken.

The third disc is the shortest, however, nonetheless amazing as well.

I constantly find myself reaching for this cd, and the only disappointment I have is that Billy Bragg is such an underrated artist here in America.
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