The cover to Billy Bragg's Talking with the Taxman About Poetry features the subtitle "the difficult third album," and while it's obviously meant as a joke, there's also a certain truth to the statement -- after two EPs and a full album that only rarely featured anything other than Bragg's voice and electric guitar, Talking with the Taxman found him and producers John Porter and Kenny Jones trying to add a bit of polish to Bragg's stark sound without losing either the charm of his performances or the power of his political statements. While nearly all the tracks on Talking with the Taxman feature Bragg alongside other musicians (among them Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl), the arrangements are purposefully spare, and ultimately they sweeten the songs without getting in the way of Bragg's homey melodies or passionate lyrics. However, as a songwriter, Billy's heart was stronger than his head on this album; while Talking with the Taxman features several of his best love songs (such as "The Marriage," "Greetings to the New Brunette," and "Wishing the Days Away") and some superb character studies ("Levi Stubbs' Tears" and "The Passion"), the political numbers are unexpectedly strident and obvious, especially the clumsy "Ideology" and "Help Save the Youth of America." Talking with the Taxman About Poetry proved that Bragg could take his music in a new direction and still hold on to the qualities that made his songs so special; too bad his political instincts were not as keen as his musical ones at the time.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming