Billy Bragg – The Million Things That Never Happened: Album Review

Billy Braggthe Folk Activist Bard from Barking comes forth with new music reflecting the mood of his island nation. As the world became mesmerised with the strange shift in consciousness that is the Contagion.

Wherever the Lockdowns hit, that is where you experienced The Million Things That Never Happened.

Caught the inspiration of the Punk Moment. Most of all from the Clash and their absolute willingness to be activists with incendiary music. Alter-ego to the Sex Pistols and their riddles wrapped in fury. An equal embrace of Rock Against Racism. Marched in-step with the Specials, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Cooper Clarke.

Billy BraggA smoother voice than Strummer and articulates like a Folkie. Melodic and soulful, an easy on the ear Woody Guthrie as a baritone. The Mermaid Avenue album trilogy with Wilco. 

I Should Have Seen It Coming. But I didn’t have the time/ Didn’t pick up the signs. No one did if they’re honest. An activist with a romantic heart. Country Folk melodies with acoustic guitars, piano and a slide dobro.      

Mid-Century Modern is one of the album’s defining songs.  A skirling keyboard from Like a Rolling Stone. Have mercy on us, Father, who lived through this age of storms. A slow-paced maudlin ballad with simple Country Folk rhythm riffs. Reflects on his Leftie hero status as he observes kids pulling down statues. Wonders whether he needs to step out of it now. It’s all about perception as he marries politics with the personal.

One of us is wrong but both of us feel right/ The gap between the man I am and the man I wanna be.

Lonesome Ocean. A Folk tune led by the piano. He bends his vocals into Americana, more than the English tradition of a MacColl or Gaugin. Sentimental and drifting in reverie.

Good Days and Bad Days. Then he comes back with a working-class People’s accent. The rough street scholar of a George Bernard Shaw play, who says sumfink ain’t right, Guv’nor. A soft string quartet and acoustic guitars. Get up and get dressed shouldn’t be such a big deal. Addressing the middle part of A Day in the Life.

Freedom Doesn’t Come For Free. A clumsy polemic about a bunch of Libertarians which is rescued by the music. Banjo and fiddle make for some great rural Appalachian Mountain Swing. Parodies the Hillbillies this time. Wrassles with a bear and bears don’t always shit in the woods. Woody would have said poop.    

The Million Things That Never Happened. The title song and addressing the home detention of the Lockdowns. Two lovers meet in the park/ Friends’ bond over drinks after dark/ A walk on the beach just out of reach.

An elegy for that which was lost, which is impossible to price. In its sad English portrait, it is Ray Davies with his Waterloo Sunset in eclipse. The violins harmonise beautifully and mourn in the solos.     

Reflections on the Mirth of Creativity. A ponderous title. Is he going for the Dylan of the mid-Sixties who angered the Hippies and scared the shit out of Gerry Goffin by singing tax deductible charity organisations? The song begins with woke up this morning but it’s not a Blues. A fair attempt at a Blonde on Blonde-style uplifting reverie complete with another swirling keyboard.

The Buck Doesn’t Stop Here is a better polemic even though the message is a simple finger-wagging at America. The general tone of Braggs vocals is melancholy throughout the album. The lyrics here would resonate with Springsteen and his reflections on the beautiful loser of the Heartland. Gods and guns/ What are they fighting for/ All-American Sharia law. 

I Will Be Your Shield. Gospel-tinged Folk with the shadow presence of the Staple Singers. I’ll come go with you is an echo from If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).            

Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained. To close the album and George Bernard Shaw’s cheeky chap is back. Satirical commentary on the Internet, social media with a shout-out to George Orwell in the bargain with we used to keep the Aspidistra flying. Upbeat and clever, rather than morose and a poke at Middle Class Britain. Caste remains ever-present in the Olde Country.

Stephen William Bragg wonders about his place in political activism with the upheaval of the last eighteen months. How he fits in with his music. Let him have the last words to close the album and the review. I like it!

Rev Orange Peel