Billy Bragg's earliest releases suggest a no-frills Cockney version of Bob Dylan with electric guitar substituted for acoustic. This particular platter combines his first and third albums into one release, side one repeating Life's a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy and the flip side reprising the EP Between the Wars. While there are some topically critical songs on the opening side such as "To Have and to Have Not," most of the tracks here deal with personal relationships. "A New England" borrows the racing guitar strum from "Little Honda" and weds it to unsentimental lyrics about love. "The Man in the Iron Mask" is a spare, slow ballad describing a masochist's acceptance of a bad marriage. "The Milkman of Human Kindness" has unusually warm lyrics and a surprisingly expressive melodic line atypical of Bragg's output. Side two is unabashedly left-wing political. The title track is a mid-tempo folk song-like number telling the story of a worker willing to look the other way for a government that will take care of him "from cradle to grave" and then finds that his faith is misplaced. There are also two covers, a forthright and sonorous song about an unsuccessful 1649 squatters' rebellion entitled "The World Turned Upside Down" and "Which Side Are You On," a union rallying song given in clipped, angry fashion. This raw, wonderfully effective record has now been superseded by Back to Basics, which combines this release with Brewing Up into one essential album.
AllMusic Review by David Cleary