Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Richard & Linda Thompson [extended]

  • Henry the Human Fly [Reprise, 1972] A-
  • Hokey Pokey [Island, 1974] A
  • Pour Down Like Silver [Island, 1976] B+
  • Live (More or Less) [Island, 1977] A-
  • First Light [Chrysalis, 1978] B
  • Sunnyvista [Chrysalis, 1980] B+
  • Shoot Out the Lights [Hannibal, 1982] A
  • Hand of Kindness [Hannibal, 1983] A-
  • Strict Tempo! [Carthage, 1983] B
  • Small Town Romance [Hannibal, 1984] B
  • Across a Crowded Room [Polydor, 1985] B+
  • One Clear Moment [Warner Bros., 1985] B
  • (Guitar, Vocal) [Carthage, 1985] B
  • Daring Adventures [Polydor, 1986] B
  • Live, Love, Larf and Loaf [Rhino, 1987] A-
  • Amnesia [Capitol, 1988] A-
  • Rumor and Sigh [Capitol, 1991] B+
  • Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson [Hannibal, 1993] Choice Cuts
  • Mirror Blue [Capitol, 1994] *
  • You? Me? Us? [Capitol, 1996] Neither
  • Industry [Rykodisc, 1997] A-
  • Mock Tudor [Capitol, 1999] Neither
  • Fashionably Late [Rounder, 2002] **
  • The Old Kit Bag [Cooking Vinyl/SpinArt, 2003] *
  • Front Parlour Ballads [Cooking Vinyl, 2005] *
  • 1000 Years of Popular Music [richardthompson-music.com, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Versatile Heart [Rounder, 2007] ***
  • Sweet Warrior [Shout! Factory, 2007] **
  • Still [Fantasy, 2015] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Richard Thompson: Henry the Human Fly [Reprise, 1972]
From "The Old Changing Way" to "The New St. George," Thompson intensifies the common-folk sympathies of the best English folk-rockers into militant class consciousness. Not that he's into protest--just dramatization (Brecht would approve). His plain, expressive voice and plain, brilliant guitar do their work. Official title of the track I think of as "Live in Fear": "Roll Over Vaughan Williams." Inspirational Verse: "Don't expect the words to fall too sweetly on your ear." A-

Hokey Pokey [Island, 1974]
Richard Thompson may not be quite the "refugee" he believes--folkies have a way of romanticizing anything down-and-outside--but one-eyed Smiffy, big-spending Georgie, prematurely mature Billy, and the denizens of the Egypt Room are certainly a vivid cast of outcasts. And not only does he know about love gone wrong--"I'll Regret It All in the Morning" is as bleak as relationship songs get--he also knows about ice cream. A

Pour Down Like Silver [Island, 1976]
I wish there were an American folk duo that combined such engaging music with such committed intelligence. (The McGarrigles don't count--they're Canadian.) But since neither pessimism nor private poetry guarantees profundity, I also wish these lyrics earned their dourness as persuasively as the music does. Irresistible: "Hard Luck Stories." B+

Richard Thompson: Live (More or Less) [Island, 1977]
This is Linda's album too no matter what the cover says--one disc is the duo's 1974 English debut, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, and while the collection of previously unavailable live material emphasizes Richard's modal guitar, you should hear them team up on "Dark End of the Street." Most folk-rock succeeds only in accentuating the irretrievability of the past, but the Thompsons' hard-nosed Sufi fatalism delivers them from nostalgia. When they sing about getting "to the border," they're talking about dying, not smuggling weed from Mexico, and they make the crossing sound like an earthly triumph ("drowned in a barrel of wine" indeed). Because they believe in eternity, the Thompsons don't sentimentalize about time gone--they simply encompass it in an endless present. A-

First Light [Chrysalis, 1978]
Richard T. has always redeemed corny themes with a humor dry enough to be mistaken for nasty, as when he includes "I'll punch you in the nose" in a list of odd jobs he'll do. But nowhere else on "Restless Highway," "Sweet Surrender," and "The Choice Wife Died for Love"--the bulk of side one--do the lyrics deviate from the expectable. Just as distressing, the guitar veers away from Thompson's unique, timeless modalism toward the studio country-rock favored by new sidemen Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark. I love "Strange Affair," one of his greatest death songs yet, and still find the austere harmonies bracing. But I want the Thompsons' pervasive Anglicism straight when I want it at all. B

Sunnyvista [Chrysalis, 1980]
Back to Fairport conventions after their El Lay lies vanished into the ether, and of course it's a disgrace that an "independent" label won't let Americans hear the stomp and clang and clamor of real folk-rock--Richard's storehouse of strange licks, tunes, and styles just add to his axemanship, and Linda's acid contralto is a lead instrument. But though only the heavy-handed title satire lacks surface charm, the songwriting is thin--too many ordinary ideas aren't twisted the way his most striking phrases would have you believe. Also, are "Justice in the Streets" and its praise-Allah chorus about Teheran? Or am I just being paranoid? B+

Shoot Out the Lights [Hannibal, 1982]
News of the wife's solitary return to England brings this relationship-in-crisis album home--including the husband's "bearded lady" warning in "The Wall of Death," ostensibly a synthesis of his thanatotic urge and lowlife tic. If poor Richard's merely "A Man in Need," I'm an ayatollah, but I have to give him credit--these are powerfully double-edged metaphors for the marriage struggle, and "Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" is as damning an answer song as Linda could wish. A

Richard Thompson: Hand of Kindness [Hannibal, 1983]
Divested of Linda, RT stands tall as just another first-rate singer-songwriter. Near as I can tell, divides his first solo album since 1972's passing strange Henry the Human Fly between the four songs on side one that bid a poisoned farewell to his tear-stained wife and the four songs on side two that praise her replacement for saving his life before warning her not to toy with his affections and criticizing her dancing. Rocking in that blocky Morris-dance manner, but distinctly contemporary, these could be passing stranger. They're of such uniformly excellent quality, however, that even Warren Zevon, say, will be hard-pressed to top them in 1983. Gosh. A-

Richard Thompson: Strict Tempo! [Carthage, 1983]
Cut in 1981, these "traditional and modern tunes for all occasions" are strictly instrumental, with Dave Mattacks holding the tempo. They're recommended to folkies, ex-folkies, guitar adepts, and students of European song. The Duke Ellington cover excepted, I just wish they swung as much as the rest of Thompson's catalogue. B

Richard Thompson: Small Town Romance [Hannibal, 1984]
What can it mean that the five best cuts on this live-and-unaccompanied-in-1982 cult item are the five he's never recorded before. It means that as a singer he has real trouble carrying slow songs that were designed for Linda and/or a band, preferably both, and that his solo versions of the fast ones can't compete with a memory. Granted, his new songs are so winning cultists won't care. What this half-cultist wonders is how much he knew when he wrote the oh-so-true "Love Is Bad for Business." B

Richard Thompson: Across a Crowded Room [Polydor, 1985]
Moderate fame and/or extreme divorce has rendered Thompson predictable. He writes well-crafted songs about his love life, and while most of them are pretty good, only "Fire in the Engine Room" packs the old metaphorical wallop and only "You Don't Say" sneaks in the old emotional double-take. He does take leave of himself on "Walking in a Wasted Land," the generalization level of which betrays yet another pop pro who should get out more, and whose guitar isn't going to save him forever. B+

Linda Thompson: One Clear Moment [Warner Bros., 1985]
Nothing like a busted marriage to bring out the latent feminism in a woman, and this one has a mouth on her--"Hell, High Water and Heartache" makes me wonder whether she got cheated out of some publishing on "Hard Luck Stories." So lyrics, while not always brilliant, aren't the problem. Problem's musical conception, which between producer Hugh Murphy and collaborator Betsy Cook turns this into the best Carly Simon record I've heard in a while. B

Richard Thompson: (Guitar, Vocal) [Carthage, 1985]
Thompson was once the most scandalously unavailable English artist in America. Now he not only has a cult that sells compilation cassettes to fanzine subscribers, he has a cult that includes a small record company. Which in addition to compiling this not unpleasing two-record set of outtakes and live stuff keeps all his real albums in print. That's a hint. B

Richard Thompson: Daring Adventures [Polydor, 1986]
I don't think it's the material and I hope it's not Thompson--with nuevo roots hack Mitchell Froom introducing his charge to the band and then saying go, there's no way to be sure. Somebody put those guitar breaks in an emulator right now. B

French Frith Kaiser Thompson: Live, Love, Larf and Loaf [Rhino, 1987]
First side's got the skewed songcraft you'd hope, second the avant-folk excursions you'd fear, and both outdo anything you'd dare expect. Despite the prolonged "Drowned Dog Black Night," first side's also the strongest Thompson since he elected to pursue his solo dick. Good that he doesn't have to do it all--from French's wacky "Wings la Mode" to the collective demolition of "Surfin' USA," it's an ad hoc collaboration that sounds as good as it reads. As for the excursions, well, renowned guitarist Thompson exercises a restraining influence on wealthy plectrum enthusiast Kaiser. Maybe next time they'll persuade Frith to put down his fiddle and join them in a fifteen-minute "Free Bird." A-

Richard Thompson: Amnesia [Capitol, 1988]
Often impressed and rarely interested by his solo years, I sat up for "Don't Tempt Me," which opens side two in a persona-fied outburst of uproarious jealousy: "That's not a dance, that's S-E-X/Ban that couple, certificate X!" Followed by "Yankee Go Home," summing up 43 years of Anglo-American relations in one mixed historical metaphor. Whereupon I could contemplate subtler innovations--lead cut with a hook, political lyric with a point. Plus the usual twisted love songs and shitload of guitar. A-

Richard Thompson: Rumor and Sigh [Capitol, 1991]
From his vintage bike to his veiled belief that Salman Rushdie had it coming, the innate conservatism of this policeman's son is manifest, and at times his prejudices about artistic substance produce meaningful threnodies of no immediate artistic interest. But even the boring stuff goes somewhere, and nobody throws a meaner party. His tales of sex education and old 78s are so cranked up and cranky you wonder how you ever could have thought fun would be easy, and he gets almost as much mileage out of not understanding women as George Jones. Wonder whether George could get through the changes of "I Misunderstood." Or add a little zing to "You Dream Too Much." B+

Richard Thompson: Watching the Dark: The History of Richard Thompson [Hannibal, 1993]
"Can't Win"; "Tear Stained Letter"; "Bogie's Bonnie Belle"; "Crash the Party"; "From Galway to Graceland" Choice Cuts

Richard Thompson: Mirror Blue [Capitol, 1994]
I thought she loved me but she didn't--why does this keep happening? ("Shane and Dixie," "For the Sake of Mary") *

Richard Thompson: You? Me? Us? [Capitol, 1996] Neither

Richard Thompson + Danny Thompson: Industry [Rykodisc, 1997]
The second Thompson is bassist Danny, the instrumental interludes of whose North of England jazz-march unit Whatever set off Richard's six songs in the manner of Charlie Haden or Kurt Weill--with music that intensifies meaning as well as sustaining mood. The songs themselves, all of which attend closely to the title concept, were researched in dying coal mines and the Karl Marx library, among other places, and let's hope they convince Richard that art is 90 per cent perspiration. It does him a world of good to get out of himself. A-

Richard Thompson: Mock Tudor [Capitol, 1999] Neither

Linda Thompson: Fashionably Late [Rounder, 2002]
relocating her folk roots with a male musical-domestic collaborator--her son Teddy ("Weary Life," "Dear Mary") **

Richard Thompson: The Old Kit Bag [Cooking Vinyl/SpinArt, 2003]
and he writes better songs than Clapton too ("Outside of the Inside," "Happy Days and Auld Lang Syne") *

Richard Thompson: Front Parlour Ballads [Cooking Vinyl, 2005]
Finally, it says here, an acoustic record--which he leads with some rock and roll ("Miss Patsy," "My Soul My Soul"). *

Richard Thompson: 1000 Years of Popular Music [richardthompson-music.com, 2005]
"Oops! I Did It Again" Choice Cuts

Linda Thompson: Versatile Heart [Rounder, 2007]
Wiser than her ex, nicer, subtler--but, admittedly, less dynamic ("Beauty," "Give Me a Sad Song"). ***

Richard Thompson: Sweet Warrior [Shout! Factory, 2007]
Folk-rockin' Sufi hates GWB even more than he hates that lady gangster (no, not Condi, nothing that realistic) ("Dad's Gonna Kill Me," "Johnny's Far Away"). **

Richard Thompson: Still [Fantasy, 2015]
Meaning of title: at 66, "still" the horny seeker who loves his guitar more than his girl--by a lot ("Guitar Heroes," "Long John Silver") **