Richard Thompson – Electric

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Another Richard Thompson album, another immersion into things gone wrong.   Let’s see, we have, in order:

    • An old man hot for an old woman.  No luck, fella.
    • Waking up after an amorous night, alone in bed.
    • A down-and-out’s resentment of the (politically) powerful
    • A career laborer who sees his job being phased out
    • Letting go of hate after a failed relationship
    • Good Things Happen to Bad People.  And that’s the title.
    • The woes of life on the road
    • The fond memories amongst the bitterness of a broken marriage.
    • A temptress destined to leave a broken heart
    • Given the above, why risk the hurt?

(and, finally)

    • A man who leaves behind wrecked relationships finally commits.

Thanks for the cheery send-off!

Electric is a solid set of songs, possibly Thompson’s best since 1999’s Mock Tudor.  Nashville’s Buddy Miller does a fine job producing the set, limiting the aural mix at a level of sparseness and austerity appropriate to Thompson’s themes, if not his lengthy folk legacy.  The music and the lyrics fit together to form the brightest blend of pessimism possible. 

I’m not being fair.

Thompson isn’t known for bright sunny tunes.  He cuts the flesh, he cuts to the bone, and occasionally he cuts until he’s funny as hell (try “Dear Janet Jackson”). Still, there’s the matter of the overly familiar.  It’s the same tunes, sung the same way. 

Meanwhile, there’s still much to like.  “Stuck on the Treadmill” is a focused observation of the economy, “Straight and Narrow” (for better or worse) has a keyboard line straight from Smash Mouth, and the finale, “Saving the Good Stuff For You” is excellent throughout.  The problem is that it’s all been heard before, and there’s little in these songs to differentiate them from the past generations of the witty and wry.

Still, he’s always worth a listen.  If there are two things that muster more appeal, it’s the relative confinement of the accordion and the introduction of a female background singer on roughly half the songs.  It brightens each otherwise gloomy day. 

There’s also the matter of his guitar.  Expert, as always.  It can’t be said that Thompson is going through the motions.  He writes very well.  But bring along the feminine element, throw in some more of the Americana magic to add some instrumental diversity, and, for goodness sake, don’t feel pressured to cap a song at 5 minutes.  Let’s hear the man play

As it is, this is a very solid CD, but, like too much of his catalog, it has a limited shelf life.

Suggested tracks: “Stony Ground,” “Good Things Happen to Bad People”

3 of 5 STARS

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