Although commercially Richard Thompson has never seen wildly successful days, the ‘90s will always remain as the closest he got to mass-popularity. I am more than sure that if the name Richard Thompson rings a bell when it comes to casual listeners, it is all because of songs released in that decade such as “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, allegedly his most popular composition.
The whole decade Richard’s record company was Capitol. When they parted ways, this retrospective was issued. The CD features songs from every single album he produced during his tenure at Capitol, beginning with 1988’s “Amnesia” and ending with “Mock Tudor” (1999). It also has 2 rarities and a new track where Richard duets with son Teddy. That song is called “Persuasion” and it is a lilting ballad about second chances – definitely one of my personal favorites from this compilation.
In terms of approach, there are countless character sketches where Richard’s acidic vision of humankind is fully developed, including the minor-hit “I Feel So Good”, the startling “Cold Kisses” and “Cooksferry Queen”, a polka which has been drawn from “Mock Tudor”.
Still, the two sketches that stand out and which can be termed the best songs in here are the already-mentioned “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Beeswing”. As you probably know, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” tells the story of a couple of outlaws drawn together by a British motorcycle that symbolizes the illegality of their lives, right to the dramatic conclusion. For its part, “Beeswing” is a tale of lost love set to a gaelic backdrop, elegant and elegiac, not to mention extremely moving. In the same way that Yeats wrote about “the secrets of the old”, Richard here sings about the secrets of the young, and how one set of secrets does not succeed but actually overwrite the others. But no matter how deliberately and thoroughly that erasure is carried out, some residual memories are bound to stay as reminders of “the price you pay/for the chains you refuse”.
And the disc also boasts endless compositions that echo the old belief that “love is like the lion’s tooth” – just listen to “Keep Your Distance” and “Razor Dance” for palpable examples.
One thing that is missing from the compilation is an extended solo workout like the one which closed “Richard & Linda Thompson: The Island Record Years”. That is a noticeable casualty, even when we have songs like “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” which are nothing but a solo from A to Z.
In my opinion, this album stands as the best introduction to Richard’s music currently available. As much as I like Fairport Convention and his partnership with Linda, this stage of his career is the most accessible one to a wider, younger public. If you buy this disc and do not enjoy it, I think there is no way you could like Fairport Convention or his work with Linda. But (quite frankly) I doubt this album could ever fail to ignite a spark in any person who loves music that bears a strong message and that is superlative in instrumental terms.
Would I recommend purchase of this compilation: Yes
Do I feel like digging deeper into his catalog after listening to it: Yes