Friday, January 19, 2007

"She's Got A New Spell" / Billy Bragg

I mostly know Billy Bragg because he's on the Yep Roc label, same as Nick Lowe -- from time to time I check out their other artists, and I've never been disappointed. I downloaded several of Billy's tracks onto my iPod a few months ago, and every time this one comes up on the shuffle, it stops me in my tracks; I just have to listen and grin. Billy's as famous for his leftist politics as for his quirky folk-punk music, but this track (from his 1987 album Worker's Playtime) isn't topical. I like his political stuff just fine -- it's intelligent and passionate -- but when you come right down to it, this is the song that gets me going.

It starts off with a jangly electric guitar intro, something bouncy and retro that I could imagine in a song by the Turtles, or Tommy James & the Shondells. Then Billy bursts in, in his nasal Essex accent: "What is that sound? / Where is it coming from? / All around / What are you running from?" It's not so much tuneful as talky, and he sounds agitated, or paranoid -- or could it be he's just in love, hmmmm?

Well . . .maybe, maybe not. It's often said that a beautiful woman is "spellbinding" or "bewitching," but the distress in Billy's strained voice suggests he's not just being metaphorical when he says, "That's how I know / That she's got a new spell." Though the arrangement's still perky, the melody light-hearted, in the next verse he's even more baffled and disoriented: "What's going down / Who's moved this room from round me? / Where has it gone? / I fear this night will drown me / So I lie awake all night." I'm guessing he's swirling around in the hormonal rush of new love, but that's not how he sees it: "One minute she says / She's gone to get the cat in/ The next thing I know/ She's mumbling in Latin". Yikes! By now it's funny, and we're laughing along with him, and maybe at him, too, as he scratches his head and looks perplexed.

In the third verse, he turns all poetic on us, and it's totally disarming: "She cut the stars out of the sky / And baked them in a pie / She stole the scene and scenery / The script and the machinery." He's gobsmacked, there's no other word for it, and I for one am charmed. He's Darrin Stevens, she's Samantha, and so long as the beat is this good, he might as well dance to it, doncha think? I know he's got me dancing, all right.

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