After the slick L.A. rhythm section of First Light, Sunnyvista returns to more conventional backing arrangements, with familiar faces like accordionist John Kirkpatrick, Dave Pegg, and Dave Mattacks contributing. The McGarrigles provide guest vocals on ‘Sisters’, while Glenn Tilbrook and Gerry Rafferty also provide vocal backing. But despite the comfortable supporting cast, Sunnyvista is unfocused, and some of these songs are failed genre experiments. As with parts of 1975’s Hokey Pokey, happy Richard and Linda Thompson doesn’t work for me – this unusually perky album feels forced and hollow.
Examples of the failed pieces include the uncomfortable funk of ‘Justice In Streets’, the creepy social commentary of the title track, and the grating ‘Civilization’, which is a strange hybrid between folk and new wave. The unusual pieces overshadow some competent usual fare for the Thompsons – ‘Traces Of My Love’ is a pretty, sparse Linda spotlight, while ‘You’re Going To Need Somebody’ is a straight-forward Richard rocker, with plenty of accordion and snappy guitar. The second half is stronger than the first, with solid tracks like ‘Sisters’ and ‘Lonely Hearts’.
The failure of Sunnyvista caused the Thompsons to lose their recording contract, focusing Richard’s writing for their final masterpiece, Shoot Out The Lights.