After three years away from the music business, an eternity in the 1970s, my theory is that a creative record executive envied the commercial behemoth of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and decided that the closest British substitute would be to marry Richard and Linda Thompson to a slick and incongruous Californian rhythm section (Andy Newmark and Willie Weeks), slick up the production a few notches, and sit back and watch the dollars roll in. While Richard has later dismissed this phase of his career, going as far as to state: “I was too flaccid in the 1970s…Especially the later 70s, where I made really indifferent records, I just didn’t have my mind on the job,” he’s a consistent and conscientious enough writer that First Light is far from a bad album. Its main issue is simply the weird sensation of two musical worlds colliding; I doubt that Newmark and Weeks often play in the same band as an accordion, and I likewise doubt that Thompson is accustomed to his rhythm section working into disco territory. Despite my conjecture, the strange pairing actually happened because Weeks and Newmark were recording with George Harrison and Julie Covington, and expressed an interest in also recording with Thompson.
I adore ‘Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart’; even though the funky West Coast rhythm section break is the most awkward collision point on the record, it’s still one of Thompson’s best songs, although purists swear by his solo acoustic version on the live Small Town Romance. Richard rocks through ‘Layla’ (not an Eric Clapton cover), where the funky rhythm section works, while Linda croons her way through the elegant title track and the pretty ‘Pavanne’. ‘The Choice Wife’ is a pared down folk instrumental, and ‘House Of Cards’ is a folk sign-along in the vein of what Thompson was performing with The Albion band around the same time, with backing vocals from Fairport alumni Trevor Lucas and Ian Matthews.
The sound is uncharacteristically slick, and outside ‘Don’t Let A Thief’ and the title track there’s a shortage of really great material, but First Light is more consistent and worthwhile than its reputation might suggest.