November 24th, 2008

Defending Richard Thompson

Okay, I tolerate a lot of dissent here. But some statements are simply unconscionable.

Case in point, “Tom” on Richard Thompson:

Why is it so many skilled musicians are considered “songwriters” when their lyrics are simply so stupid? I’d prefer the unadorned instrumentals to crap lyrics as here…

Richard Thompson is a fabulous guitar player and indefatigable performer. His voice has a smoky intensity and emotional complexity that is nearly unsurpassed. But he’s also a lyricist of rare narrative and poetic skill, as well as intelligence.

“Mingus Eyes,” the song featured in yesterday’s post, isn’t one of the finest examples, to be sure, although it’s not bad. I put it up there because I like the guitar (and the bass; I agree with all the commenters who remarked on that), and because it featured Thompson’s quirky little kick.

But Thompson is master of the bitingly witty (although often darkly bitter) lyric, as well as the song that tells a poignant story. As exhibits A through F, I suggest “Beeswing”, for starters. Then try “Vincent Black Lightning,” “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” “Wall of Death,” “Walking On a Wire,” and, for a touch of lightness, “Hots for the Smarts.”

Or look at the lyrics of just about anything else the man has written. But your research won’t be complete without a visit to You Tube to see his performances of all these favorites, and more.

So there.

10 Responses to “Defending Richard Thompson”

  1. TomG Says:

    Hopefully, Neo, you are aware the “Tom” who wrote about “crap lyrics” and “stupid” is not me. I like Richard Thompson’s music. Maybe I should think of an online name that doesn’t show up in comments so ofen….

  2. Baklava Says:

    It’s the way in the information age !

    Be negative and say many things loudly about things you don’t know!

    People are now climate experts, energy experts, economics experts, etc without even having read more than 100 pages on each topic…….

    Oh yes, Music critics also! Have audience? Will write!

    Yes, that means me too! :)

  3. soupcon Says:

    I finally got around to listening to Shoot Out The Lights a couple of years back, and i was hoping it was a masterpiece that many of the name critics once extolled.It frequently made a Rolling Stone Top 100 albums of all time list,usually in the top 20 spots, so it had to be a gem.Critics know better, don’t they? *sigh*

    It;s one of those insider picks that signifies entrance to the club of all knowing sophisticates, like other artists I’ve been told to “enjoy”, such as Little Feat,Gram Parsons,The Clash,Bob Dylan,Sonic Youth,Patti Smith and Husker Du.Not only was SOTL a dirge,but I never got to get the wonderful guitar mastery that is supposed to elevate him to genius status.Please Neo, where have I gone wrong?

  4. Elise Says:

    My husband is a huge Richard Thompson fan so your stock around our house went sky-high after I pointed out your recent RT post. I now figure that if I ever want to win an argument I can simply tell me husband that you think like I do. He will immediately bow to your obviously superior wisdom.

  5. Bel Air Says:

    I’ve always liked ‘I Still Dream’. I can’t play it like Richard but it holds up well enough with an amateur hour guitar player like me.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    soupcon: where have you gone wrong? Nowhere. “Shoot Out the Lights” has only two songs that I like; both of them happen to be listed in this post. Otherwise I think it’s nothing much. I prefer Thompson alone to Thompson and Linda, anyway. I think that album got a lot of press because they made it when their marriage was breaking up, and people were interested because of the emotional train wreck aspects.

    As for the guitar solos, like many artists Thompson tends to really cut loose only in his live performances. Go see him live; you’ll not regret it, I can (almost) promise.

  7. Tom Says:

    Well, I stand by what I said about Mingus Eyes as a lyric, though Neo has uncharacteristically savaged my complaint as “unconscionable”. I like the instrumentality of RT– I thoroughly enjoyed the guitar-bass of the song, but perhaps someone would be kind enough to explain the stand-alone sense of the lyrics. I really don’t do well when meanings are obscure–I mean, this is “popular” music and not a Rainer Maria Rilke reading, is it not?

    [note from neo-neocon: I hope you understand that I was trying to be funny when I wrote that your remark was "unconscionable." It was actually a perfectly fine remark. I just happen to disagree.]

  8. Whig Says:

    soupcon – try `Mock Tudor’, `Pour Down Like Silver’, or `Front Parlour Balads’, which is new, from 2007.

    I happen to like `Shoot Out…’, but I respect people who having heard something, don’t like it…

    (I don’t think `citizen kane’ is the `best movie ever’, for example; I don’t even think it’s the best Orson Welles film… which is in fact `Touch of Evil’)

    here’s some advice: give it time, put on `Shoot’ again, and you may be surprised, you might like it alot…

  9. PapaMAS Says:

    Since we are defending the indefensible (our tastes), I still say I really like SOTL. Too bad not everyone has sensitivity and discrimination to my degree (just kiddin’). Although I do agree that the best songs on it are “Back Street Slide” and “It’s just the motion.” Linda Thompson never thrilled me any, either. She usually just annoys me. RT is The Man! Still, I never did understand why it was supposed to be a hugely influential album, even as much as I like it. It’s real, real good. World changing? Nah.

    Gotta confess that I discovered RT, as with so many important things in my life, when I was drunk and watching TV. Just kiddin’ ’bout that important things part. But, I was a drunken TV viewer. I had gotten soused to the gills with my buds and was watching some late night show (probably Carson) when RT came on by himself and played the two songs noted above. It was one of those times when you see something which is just so right you have to do something about it. In this case I went out and bought the album the next day.

    I was sober, then.

  10. GrtflMark Says:

    In addition to being of the, perhaps, five greatest guitar players alive right now, Richard Thompson is also one of the world foremost lyricists.

    A reading of any of the songs on “Rumor and Sigh” – “I Read About Love”, for instance – or “Shoot Out the Lights”, the classic “Wall of Death” comes to mind – will easily confirm that.

    I just saw Richard solo in Kent, Ohio last month. It was about the tenth time I have seen him. He just gets better every time.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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