Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Richard & Linda Thompson

  • Hokey Pokey [Island, 1974] A
  • Pour Down Like Silver [Island, 1976] B+
  • First Light [Chrysalis, 1978] B
  • Sunnyvista [Chrysalis, 1980] B+
  • Shoot Out the Lights [Hannibal, 1982] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

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+

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