English folk rock duo Richard and Linda Thompson’s career resembled a soap opera. Active as recording artists between 1974 and 1982, they married, released three albums in quick succession, then spent three years in a Sufi Muslim commune where Richard’s religious leader forbade him from playing music. Leaving the commune, their career faded and they were dropped from their record deal. 1982’s Shoot Out The Lights was a breakthrough and reignited their career, but the couple had already split up, and their subsequent tour of North America was famously tense and difficult. The coupling of Richard’s snappy Fender Stratocaster work and song-craft, and Linda’s clear contralto, left some great songs behind.
Richard and Linda Thompson
Happy Richard and Linda Thompson doesn’t work for me – this uncharacteristically perky album is often forced and hollow. Sunnyvista is largely a return to the duo’s folk roots after the slick First Light, but the dabble into funk on ‘Justice in the Streets’ is a failure.
My theory for the existence of First Light is that a creative record executive envied the success of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and decided that the closest British substitute would be to pair Richard and Linda Thompson with a slick and incongruous Californian rhythm section. The dabbling into disco works for the smooth, slinky ‘Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart’, while the title track is pretty and unspoiled.
Hokey Pokey is cut from a similar cloth to I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, but a lot of these character studies of disturbed people are second tier pieces in the couples’ catalogue. There’s one superlative song in the gorgeous ‘A Heart Needs A Home’.
#3 – Pour Down Like Silver
Their third album finds this often dour couple at their dourest, with sparse arrangements and songs based on Sufi scriptures. Pour Down Like The Silver might be the least fun album ever made, with its austere sound, and Richard Thompson later retired from music for three years, returning when he realised he wasn’t good at anything else.
#2 – Shoot Out The Lights
There’s little folk music on the duo’s final album, with Richard rocking through the title track, and Linda singing torch songs like the Sandy Denny speculation of ‘Did She Jump (Or Was She Pushed)?’ Its excellence was surprising after a couple of weak albums, and could have reignited the couple’s career had they not already broken up.
#1 – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
The Thompsons’ debut album is their freshest and most engaging. It covers a lot of emotions, from the joy on the opener ‘When I Get To The Border’ and the title track, to the soul-crushing advice to a newborn baby on ‘End of the Rainbow’ and the haunting ‘The Great Valerio’.