After dipping his toes in the notion of using backing musicians on Talking With the Taxman About Poetry, Billy Bragg finally dove in headfirst with Worker's Playtime, but Don't Try This at Home was where Bragg first began to sound completely comfortable with the notion of a full band. With Johnny Marr (who helped produce two tracks), Peter Buck, Michael Stipe, and Kirsty MacColl on hand to give the sessions a taste of star power, Don't Try This at Home sounds full but uncluttered; the arrangements (most complete with -- gasp! -- drums) flesh out Bragg's melodies, giving them greater strength in the process, and Billy's craggy vocals wrap around the melodies with significantly more flexibility than on previous recordings. With the exception of the rabble-rousing "Accident Waiting to Happen" and "North Sea Bubble," and the witty "Sexuality," most of Don't Try This at Home finds Billy Bragg in a contemplative mood; the political tunes are subtle (and don't hector), such as the mournful "Rumours of War," and the songs about love tend to examine the less hopeful side of relationships, like "Mother of the Bride" and the lovely "You Woke Up My Neighborhood." But there's also an understated wit to many of the songs, especially the well-drawn "God's Footballer," and Bragg approached the work of other songwriters to splendid effect on Fred Neil's "Dolphins and Sid Griffin's "Everywhere." Don't Try This at Home isn't the sort of album that announces itself loudly, but slip into its understated textures and you'll discover one of Bragg's warmest and most thoughtful albums.
Don't Try This at Home Review
by Mark Deming