I purchased Shoot Out The Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson like the good little music fan I was during my early twenties. And I promptly couldn’t get it. Why was their little psycho-drama of an album so universally praised? I thought I was just too young to get it, but then I got older and there was no change. I bought other Thompson albums and found them mildly diverting. I haven’t given up my quest to understand this acclaimed artist which brings us to his latest release Front Parlour Ballads.
Is it mildly diverting? Yes, plus a little more. The title should hip you that this album is full of tunes that Thompson might play for you if granted an exclusive audience with him. The setup is Thompson and his guitar except for leadoff track “Let It Blow” which features Debra Dobkin on percussion. It’s a blustery song whose main character is a serial marrying Lothario. Did I say character? Yes, this album is full of story songs evoking the grand folk songs of years past, but all provided nice modern twists. It’s all original material that sounds like it sauntered in from another era.
“Miss Patsy” is the lament of a guy in with a bad crowd who ends up “sharing a cell with a holy kung fu” whatever that means. There’s more new acoustic folklore with “Old Thames Side” about a man who can’t pick up the ladies the way he wants to: “and I looked for a phrase to capture your ways, but that’s a task will always defeat me.” The sailor’s lament “Row, Boys, Row” is a riot with
the line “should have read the small print” included as a warning to all aspiring swabbies out there. “The Boys Of Mutton Street” is a nice return to childhood with some spritely guitar edging its evocation along. The protagonist of “A Solitary Life” is booming and boisterous, but it turns out bad in the end. Speaking of the end, the last song creeps me me out a little. It seems to be about Hitler getting bullied at school. His name is never said, but the kid is enamored of Nietzche and Nimrod and revenge is on his little evil mind.
Front Parlour Ballads is no Shoot Out The Lights. But in my case this is a good thing. I found the album quite refreshing if not a complete winner. It could have lost about 4 songs and made a better whole. One I know; the album is good enough that I’ll likely pick up Thompson’s next release looking for that eureka moment that others have had with his work.