When Billy Bragg struck out on his own after mustering out of the British Army (and his short-lived punk band Riff Raff), he set out to be a one-man version of the Clash, and his first recorded salvo is nearly as strong a statement of purpose as the Clash's self-titled debut. Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy captured Bragg in rough but indelible form: the passionate bray of his voice, the noisy report of his electric guitar, and the push and pull between small-p politics and a regular bloke's view of the world were all firmly in place, and in many respects these seven songs set the template for the first act of Bragg's career, with much of what followed essentially a variation on this theme. "To Have and to Have Not," "A New England," and "The Busy Girl Buys Beauty" proved he could write about social and political themes with unpretentious intelligence, "The Milkman of Human Kindness" and "The Man in the Iron Mask" showed he had plenty to say about affairs of the heart, and all the songs are well served by the spare, stark dynamics of Bragg's guitar-and-voice performing style. While the slightly dodgy fidelity of the low-budget recording occasionally interferes, Life's a Riot with Spy vs Spy caught enough ears to send Billy Bragg on his way to a successful career, and with good reason -- he rarely made a record that honored both his songs and his enthusiasm as effectively as he did here.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming