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Accident Waiting to Happen (Red Star Version)
by Billy Bragg
Outer London-born Billy Bragg is an atypical singer-songwriter. His material is often political, he is an activist, and he routinely performs solo gigs, all of which conjures images of folky acoustic earnestness. Bragg, however, got his start in 1977 leading the punky combo Riff Raff, and his solo gigs typically find him on electric guitar with as much energy as his full-band recordings (he occasionally dips into a tongue-in-cheek alter ego he calls "Johnny Clash," which, if you understand the references, says it all). Bragg is no stranger to ballads and sensitive material; alongside his striking polemics his catalog contains no shortage of poignant compositions. I've been listening to him again lately because I acquired a couple more of his 12" singles—EPs, really, as one features four tracks, and the other five—that have been bringing me great enjoyment. Bragg is one of those artists whose singles are well worth picking up even if you've got the parent albums, as the B-sides are often compelling when not downright fantastic. I even enjoy them as standalone experiences in those cases where I have the tracks on compilation albums, and it can take a lot to get me to drag singles off the shelf and play them repeatedly. (The Accident EP also contains one of his most staggering songs about interpersonal relationships, "Sulk.")

Bragg's fourth full-length album Don't Try This at Home (1992) balanced balladry and upbeat material but had a commercial pop consciousness about it, and it made inroads for him in places where he had previously been a cult artist. A number of successful singles were released, my favorite being Accident Waiting to Happen; however, the single featured not the album version but a re-recording by the touring band assembled to promote the album, called The Red Stars. I preferred this even more dynamic version from the first time I heard it, and it's my favorite song from Bragg's expansive catalog.

He continues to be active in music and politics; I most recently saw him perform in April 2019, and his most recent solo full-length Tooth & Nail (2013) was his strongest album in quite some time, possibly since Don't Try This at Home. His most recent release of new material is the very politically minded EP Bridges Not Walls (2017)—song title "Full English Brexit" an amusing example—and he's also just released a multi-disc set of BBC recordings spanning 1983 to 2019.

(Editorial minutiae: The original 1992 single and numerous subsequent compilations refer to this track as the "Red Star Version"; 2003's compilation Must I Paint You a Picture: The Essential Billy Bragg suddenly changes it to "Red Stars Version," which matches the band name but is a discographical aberration.)








1992 - Go! DIscs
Posted: 17th January 2020
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