Review Revue: Billy Bragg’s Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy

billybragg_album.jpg

Perhaps one reason I’ve been volunteering here for so long is how much KEXP and I have in common: We both are driven by music and the community, we’re both non-profit entities (although with me it’s not really by choice), and we’ve both been strong admirers of Billy Bragg for at least 20 years. From the day this record came into the KCMU studios (January 20, 1984 according to the sticker) to the release of Live at KEXP Volume 3, with a live version of his rousing “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards,” and beyond, most everyone here has been a fan of Billy’s, as far as I can tell.

Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy was his first release. Twenty four years before Radiohead was telling their fans to set their own price, Billy was telling people right on the cover the most they should pay for this 16-minute slab of genius. (See that “Pay no more than £2.99″ right along the side? Take that, greedy record stores!) His sound has grown and changed over the years, and it’s all great, but these early records--where he was armed with nothing but an electric guitar, a rough-hewn voice with a strong Essex accent, and his own convictions--are the first I loved and the ones I keep coming back to. (It doesn’t hurt that Yep Roc Records recently lovingly re-mastered and re-released all of his early albums, with a boatload of bonus tracks and other goodies) It’s good to see that the man was so well-received here (for the most part):

“I like this stuff. Guitar and voice only, like a breath of fresh air. Vocals sound like Julian Cope.”

“This is so wonderful.”

“Yes it is, S. And the vocals are the fab British type - the Jam or Teardrop Explodes.”

“Coolness.”

“Ditto.”

“Fuckin’ Fab.”

“YUP!”

“AWE ka SOME (this is not a word, I rekand)”

And of course there has to be at least one grumpy naysayer, however inarticulate: “Lame.”

“I like it.”

“...It grew on me - Wow!” This note seems to have the same initials as the previous “lame” comment, implying that that person was eventually brought around to the greatness of this record. The handwriting appears to be quite different, though, so it’s somewhat inconclusive.

And then the clever response to “It grew on me”:

“Mold can do that too, Al.”

“I (heart) Billy.” This appears to be a third note from the same person, or perhaps a second note from the second person, or a whole new person with yet again the same initials? I’m getting confused.

“DUMN RECORD.”

OK . . . and on that rather odd note, we conclude this week’s installment of Review Revue. If there are any albums that you’d be curious to see in the future, leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

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