Mock Tudor was Richard Thompson’s final album under his Capitol Records’ contract. It was released in 1999, and it was the one album of the decade not produced by Mitchell Froom, the man who is known for his glossy approach to record-making. That is always a recurrent point when the album is discussed. The fact remains that Thompson is a gritty performer, and a rawer approach for capturing him in action always works best.
That is exemplified by the first three tracks, two of which were issued as singles (the polka “Cooksferry Queen” and “Bathsheba Smiles”), and that stand as very fine vignettes about outlaws and people who walk the line. “Cooksferry Queen” paints the picture of an outright ruffian that is transfixed by love, putting himself at the mercy of the other – as Yasu, the leader of the band Black Stones (or “Blast”) from the anime “Nana” used to say, those who once laughed at love will cry because of it in the end.
And “Batsheba Smiles” is a very pointed portrait of a woman akin to Coleridge’s Christabel, IE the kind of woman that is always there for everybody but never there for any person in particular. The chorus of the song is specially powerful, with the “Do you close your eyes to see miracles/Do you raise your face to kiss angels/Do you float on air to hear oracles” section showcasing the effects such a person has on others, and how initial admiration turns into bitterness very quickly indeed.
Lodged between “Cooksferry Queen” and “Bathsheba Smiles” we find “Sibella”, yet another characterization that passes the test with flying colors. This time the topic is unrequited love (a pet theme of Richard’s), and the arrangement alternates from bare to full in a flash, accelerating the urgency of the message.
These three songs and the two that follow are actually part of the first section of the album, a section that is named “Metroland”. The remaining two songs are “Two-faced Love” (the weak link in the section) and the instrumentally-brutal “Hard On Me”, where Richard can indulge into soloing at will. The song works equally well in the studio as in live settings, and that is admirable.
(Continue to Part 2)