Billy Bragg/The Million Things That Never Happened/Cooking Vinyl
Four Out of Five Stars
Billy Bragg’s stellar career has come a long way since he made his bow as a political provocateur who made music and followed his mantra armed only with an acoustic guitar and a will to revolt.
His early albums—Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy (1983); Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984); Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986); Workers’ Playtime (1988); Don’t Try This At Home (1991); William Bloke (1996); England, Half English (2002); Mr Love & Justice (2008); Tooth & Nail (2013); two efforts with Wilco – the Grammy nominated-Mermaid Avenue (1998) and Mermaid Avenue Vol II (2000)—and his album with Joe Henry, Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad (2016), not to mention a mini-album Bridges Not Walls (2017) and his most recent release, The Best Of Billy Bragg At The BBC 1983-2019 (2019)—found him a decidedly committed contemporary folk troubadour.
That said, Bragg’s new offering, The Million Things That Never Happened, marks a moderate change in his template, one that finds him adopting a role as a singer/songwriter of considerable insight and intelligence. The majority of the offerings are decidedly mellow and melodic, flush with calm and compassion. Songs such as “Should Have Seen It Coming,” “Mid-Century Modern” and “Reflections on the Mirth of Creativity” sound like instant standards, each enhanced by supple arrangements that put Bragg’s sensitive vocals front and center in the company of an easy caress. There’s both mirth and meaning in many of these tracks, with certain songs—“Pass It On” in particular, which contemplates matters of mortality and family history, the unusually upbeat “Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained,” a discussion about the contradictions of social media, and the low-lit treatise of Libertarianism, “The Buck Doesn’t Stop Here No More,”—delving deeper into specific circumstance.
So too, the somber title track, the heartfelt “I Believe In You” and the soothing “I Will Be Your Shield” probe the tangle of human emotions.
Taken in tandem, The Million Things That Never Happened ranks as one of Bragg’s most thoughtful efforts, no small accomplishments considering the remarkable records that came before. As both an activist and observer, Bragg can’t be bettered.