A good metric of an outstanding album is the ability to grab you by the ears and have you tapping your feet along, nodding into your giant indie-kid headphones with approval. By such a metric, Shoot Out The Lights is just such an offering for me. Being wholly new to the work of former Fairport Convention-er Richard Thompson (sadly, I’ve never managed to become well-versed in folk music in general), this album was recommended to me by a friend who I trust has more experience in such matters as vintage music that I’ve shamefully missed out on.
It was well recommended. Shoot Out The Lights comes across as a sublime blend of all that’s wonderful about folk rock. It sounds awfully like the bastard child of Nashville and The Eagles mixed with all that’s good about classic rock to this newcomer, and that’s no bad thing. There’s an earthy quality to Richard’s vocals, a vulnerability to Linda’s singing, and just the tiniest hint of an undercurrent of enmity and loathing; though it hardly reaches the all-out mudslinging glory of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
The album kicks off with high drama and just a tinge of the Wild West with the stompy Don’t Renege On Our Love. Moody background vocals, chunky rhythm guitar and a gleaming chunk of lead guitar virtuosity combine on a plea to a leaving lover:
Well give me just an ounce of sympathy
Give me my chains of liberty
There’s a rope that binds us and I don’t want to break it
Just a trace of bitterness in that imagery, then. Linda takes over for Walking On A Wire, a slower-paced, sombre ballad with a slight trace of that Dr Hook sound. ‘This grindstone’s wearing me, Your claws are tearing me’, she sings in a world-weary tone. Before the listener despairs too much, Man In Need provides much-needed toe-tapping rock tinged relief, yet still full of Thompson’s jaded worldview.
Benefiting from a showing on grumpy TV doctor drama House, Just The Motion is a perfect piece of soulful heartache; laid-back Claptonesque guitar is counterpoint to fragile vocals from Linda, with turbulent lyrics almost recalling a mirror image of Christine McVie’s quiet optimism in Songbird:
When the landlord is knocking and your job is losing, don’t worry
And the baby needs rocking and your friends are confusing, don’t worry
You’re just feeling sea-sick, you’re just feeling weak
Your mind is confused and you can’t seem to speak
Oh, it’s just the motion, it’s just the motion
The title track, with its Desperado imagery, over-the-top guitar work and swagger laden with irony almost recalls some of John Mellencamp’s earlier pieces. It’s a very compelling mix.
Back Street Slide is a wondrous folksy feast, all accordion and rousing harmonies, but with a wicked and sly undercurrent of acrimony aimed squarely at duplicitous women. At the same time, there are traces of classic 70s rock in the brass and guitar riff three minutes in; it’s a curious blend, but it works well.
We move on to Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed?, arguably the album’s bleakest, blackest track; sung by Linda, it doesn’t hold back on the gruesome imagery. And yet, for all that mellow depression, the final track Wall of Death delivers some peppy major key sentiments and tight country-ish harmonies, while still maintaining a reckless disinterest for joie-de-vivre:
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death
For an album so crammed with despair, cynicism and bitterness, I was left feeling remarkably upbeat at the end, and wholly converted to Richard Thompson’s raw and somewhat miserable talent. Hopefully, there might be less divorce-based records of his to explore, though…