Wild Mercury Sound

The "fierce and heterosexual" Richard Thompson

John Mulvey

I have a real backlog of stuff to write about at the moment, and I need to do some kind of a round-up in the next day or two, hopefully before Easter. There's great doom, psych and drone from Earth, Vibracathedral Orchestra and Dungen. There's a lovely pair of reissues from ambient's spiritual master, Terry Riley. I have a couple of fun techno - or am I meant to call them new rave? - albums by Simian Mobile Disco and their feted French remixers, Justice. Oh, and I'm meant to hear The White Stripes' "Icky Thump" any day now. Today, though, I'm going to do the sensible thing and write about what's playing right now - the new album by Richard Thompson.

Thompson is a notable presence on the new album by Rufus Wainwright, and Wainwright described him brilliantly to another Uncut writer last week. "I’ve admired [him]for years," he said, "and also been frightened of [him], musically, because he’s so fierce and heterosexual. I was excited to bring some of his muscle into the arena." It proves to be a terrific pairing , as Thompson's guitar cuts through Wainwright's orchestral fantasias with a sort of clean precision, and with much more sensitivity than the quote suggests. He's hardly Tony Iommi, you know?

Anyway, Thompson has been on a hot streak these past few years - productive, innovative, politically engaged - after some rather toothless and overproduced records in the '90s. After 2005's solo acoustic set, "Front Parlour Ballads", his new one is a meatier, full band affair. It's called "Sweet Warrior" and the narratives often deal with that old dilemma of folk song: how to poetically represent soldiers as noble and heroic, while at the same time acknowledging the grimness and futility of their business.

Thompson handles the paradox with guts and rage, most explicitly on "Dad's Gonna Kill Me", a dense, furious story set in Iraq. It's one of the many highlights on a long record that's remarkable for its intensity, craft and passion. The melodic richness is striking: "Poppy Red" wouldn't have sounded out of place on his last album with Linda Thompson, "Shoot Out The Lights". But there's also a sense of a virtuoso still finding that new sounds can be teased out of his guitar.

The office favourite, at the moment, is "Bad Monkey", which I'm fairly recklessly calling a cross between "Marquee Moon" and "Hoots Mon" by Lord Rockingham's XI. It begins as stomping big band rock'n'roll, but gradually Thompson starts firing darts into the dancehall, playing increasingly dissonant solos in the face of rampaging brass. By the end, he's making notes bend and wander in a way that I'm technically incapable of describing, but may have something to do with North African scales. It's ridiculous, which is not normally one of Thompson's attributes. It's also bloody brilliant.


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