October 28, 2003
Festival Five Records
Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, British Folk, Folk-Rock, Psychedelic, Urban Folk, College Rock, Anti-Folk, Alternative Folk

Album Review

In 1983, Billy Bragg was a guy with a cheap electric guitar, a rough but passionate voice, and a knack for writing and singing straight from the heart whether he was discussing leftist political concerns or the mysterious interactions between men and women. The guy has a band and the political issues that have caught his attention are trickier 20 years later, but he's still enchanted and puzzled by love, and hasn't stopped writing worthwhile songs about it. Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg is a two-disc, 40-song compilation that does an admirable job of capturing the hills and valleys of Bragg's recording career, opening up with "A New England" from his debut EP, Life's a Riot With Spy vs. Spy, and closing with a cut from 2002's England, Half English. A spin through this set suggests that Bragg's best (or at least most affecting) work arrived in the early stages of his career, as disc one (which follows Bragg through Worker's Playtime) is a decidedly more solid and absorbing listen than disc two (the material from the disappointing William Bloke in particular weighs down the collection's second act), and his love songs have stood the test of time a shade better than his political material (the miners' strike may be over, but broken hearts are timeless). But there are plenty of gems to be found throughout this collection, and Must I Paint You a Picture? serves as a potent reminder that in the grand tradition of Bob Dylan, even Bragg's lesser albums contain a handful of truly memorable songs worth hearing; if this isn't the ideal Billy Bragg collection, it's an excellent introduction, a solid career overview, and a lovely reminder of how much he has to say about the heart and the mind. Initial pressings come with a ten-song bonus disc that adds several hard to find selections, including Bragg's Anglophile rewrite of "Route 66," a telling duet with the late Ted Hawkins, and a bootleg remix that merges Bragg with the Hives.
Mark Deming, Rovi

Track Listing

  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
  21. Sexuality
  22. Cindy of a Thousand Lives
  23. Moving the Goalposts
  24. Tank Park Salute
  25. You Woke Up My Neighbourhood
  26. Accident Waiting to Happen (Red Stars Version)
  27. Sulk
  28. Upfield
  29. The Fourteenth of February
  30. Brickbat
  31. The Space Race Is Over
  32. The Boy Done Good
  33. Ingrid Bergman
  34. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key
  35. My Flying Saucer
  36. All You Fascists Bound to Lose (Blokes Version)
  37. NPWA
  38. St. Monday
  39. Some Days I See the Point
  40. Take Down the Union Jack (Band Version)
  41. A13, Trunk Road to the Sea [#][*]
  42. Fear Is a Man's Best Friend [*]
  43. Cold and Bitter Tears [Live][#][*]
  44. Seven and Seven Is [#][*]
  45. When Will I See You Again? [#][*]
  46. Rule nor Reason [Live][#][*]
  47. Debris [Live][#][*]
  48. Dry Bed [#][*][Demo Version]
  49. She Smiled Sweetly [#][*]
  50. Take Down the Union Jack [King Normal & The Rug Remix][#][*]