01 February 2006

Overlooked Albums from the 90's - #17

Don't Try This At Home by Billy Bragg

Don't Try This At Home is another in a grouping of albums (there's at least one more to be included here on EF's Overlooked of the 90's) that I originally purchased because of some kind of connection to The Smiths. The first one was Dusk by The The which, like Don't Try This At Home, featured some guesting by one Johnny Marr. The band may have broken up in the real world but I was doing everything I could to keep The Smiths together in my record collection.

I first heard of Billy Bragg when riding in a friend's car. She had the cassette of Back to Basics and it took very little time for me to fall in love with the raw Englishness of everything on that record. So when I then saw the video for "Sexuality" on 120 minutes and was told by the VJ that Johnny Marr, Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, and Kirsty MacColl all played on the album; well, I knew I'd be buying Don't Try This At Home as soon as I could.

Unlike Back to Basics, or any Bragg record to this point, Don't Try This At Home was a very well thought out, orchestrated, and produced album. There was, as mentioned, an all-star band backing Billy and the songs they made covered all bases: from raw rock ("Accident Waiting To Happen"), to silly ("Sexuality"), to folk-rock love song ("You Woke Up My Neighborhood"), to warm/tender ("Moving the Goalposts", "Tank Park Salute")...this is the album that laid the foundation for where Billy Bragg would be going for the rest of his career. It is his best album in my opinion (unless you count Mermaid Avenue which is half Billy, half Wilco, half Woody Guthrie anyway) and well worth a listen if you are looking for a bit of thoughtful English alt-protest folk-rock.

Seems like the world received this album about as well as Rolling Stone did when they gave it 3 out of 5 stars but I tend to agree (this time) more with what AllMusic says:

"After dipping his toes in the notion of using backing musicians on Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, Billy Bragg finally dove in headfirst with Worker's Playtime, but Don't Try This at Home was where Bragg first began to sound completely comfortable with the notion of a full band. With Johnny Marr (who helped produce two tracks), Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, and Kirsty MacColl on hand to give the sessions a taste of star power, Don't Try This at Home sounds full but uncluttered; the arrangements (most complete with -- gasp! -- drums) flesh out Bragg's melodies, giving them greater strength in the process, and Billy's craggy vocals wrap around the melodies with significantly more flexibility than on previous recordings. With the exception of the rabble-rousing "Accident Waiting to Happen" and "North Sea Bubble," and the witty "Sexuality," most of Don't Try This at Home finds Billy Bragg in a contemplative mood; the political tunes are subtle (and don't hector), such as the mournful "Rumours of War," and the songs about love tend to examine the less hopeful side of relationships, like "Mother of the Bride" and the lovely "You Woke Up My Neighborhood." But there's also an understated wit to many of the songs, especially the well-drawn "God's Footballer," and Bragg approached the work of other songwriters to splendid effect on Fred Neil's "Dolphins and Sid Griffin's "Everywhere." Don't Try This at Home isn't the sort of album that announces itself loudly, but slip into its understated textures and you'll discover one of Bragg's warmest and most thoughtful albums."
You can buy this, or any other Billy Bragg albums on his official site HERE.

As an aside - here are the first lyrics of "Accident Waiting To Happen", which are also the first of the album:
"I've always been impressed with a girl who could sing for her supper and get breakfast as well, that's the way I am heaven help me"
Always have loved that line. I could listen to this song over and over...

Listen:
  • "Accident Waiting To Happen"
  • "You Woke Up My Neighborhood"
  • "North Sea Bubble"

Previous Overlooked Albums from the 90's:
#1 - Saturnalia by The Wedding Present
#2 - The Inevitable by Squirrel Nut Zippers
#3 - This is Our Music by Galaxie 500
#4 - Dusk by The The
#5 - Fantasma by Cornelius
#6 - New Wave by The Auteurs
#7 - I, Jonathan by Jonathan Richman
#8 - Futureworld by Trans Am
#9 - Harmacy by Sebadoh
#10 - Cure For Pain by Morphine
#11 - God Fodder by Ned's Atomic Dustbin
#12 - Seven by James
#13 - Why Do Birds Sing? by Violent Femmes
#14 - Blank-Wave Arcade by The Faint
#15 - Dog Man Star by Suede
#16 - Beatsongs by The Blue Aeroplanes

if you'd like...
Pitchfork's top albums of the 90's
1st version of their list

Another site does their own "Overlooked of the 90's":
Top 30 'Other' Albums of the '90s

6 comments:

Brad said...

'Tank Park Salute' is probably the most touching song about father-son relationships ever written. Never fails to move me.

Great album, excellent choice.

Matt said...

I agree 100% about 'Tank Park Salute'. have always loved that song and it's one of my all time favorite Billy Bragg songs.

Sean said...

I love this column of yours as I don't know many of the albums. One album I've always thought overlooked is Catherine Wheel's "Adam and Eve" from 97.

Thanks for all the records to seek out.

Vonspreezenburger said...

Fortunately, "Sexuality" is always #1 on Marzipan.

http://reallykindasortatotallystupid.blogspot.com/

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