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Billy Bragg & the Blokes 

England, Half English (Elektra)

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A better title for this album would be Too Damned English. That's always been Bragg's problem, as far as his inability to break out in America is concerned. Even hard-core U.S. left-wingers have a tough time relating to the guy, despite obvious sympathies with Bragg's anti-Thatcher broadsides and working-class hero persona. Unlike the revolutionary battle cry of harder-edged bands like the Clash, who reached alienated youth of all nations, Bragg's folk-rock protest has rarely struck a chord across the ocean.

England, Half English probably won't strike one, either. Despite the help of the Blokes (ex-members of the Faces, Shriekback, and the Mekons), this isn't Mermaid Avenue, the CDs on which Bragg benefited from Woody Guthrie lyrics, split composing duties with roots rockers Wilco, and earned some notice in the States. Bragg's own lyrics too often fall flat. Even a potential anti-free-trade anthem like "NPWA" (released as a single only in the U.S.) fails to inspire. And there's the harsh accent, reminiscent of another Essex native who never made it big in America, the late Ian Dury. A few catchy songs notwithstanding, England, Half English is destined to be another album strictly for the Brits.

More by Steve Byrne

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