BILLY BRAGG AND THE BLOKES England, Half English (Outside) Rating: NN Rating: NN
You certainly can't blame Billy Bragg for aiming high. On England, Half English, the outspoken singer/songwriter takes on the entire nation of England, or at least what it means to be English in 2002. The gesture is a good one, as Bragg tries to reflect the diversity of the country on songs like Baby Faroukh, Dreadbelly and the title track, mixing his brittle twang with elements of Arabic and Caribbean music. Sadly, the idea of Bragg doing reggae is as awkward as it sounds, but at least it detracts from embarrassing protest ditties like St. Monday and NPWA, with its catchy chorus, "No power without representation." Bragg's love songs are, as always, tasteful and beautiful, and the piano and organ work of Ian McLagan is a nice touch, but you can't help feeling that the bard's intentions outstrip his abilities here.