Richard Thompson Issued "Mirror Blue" In 1994, More Than Two Years After The Critically-acclaimed "Rumour And Sigh" Album Was Released. It Was Produced By Mitchell Froom Again.
It remains something of a mystery why Richard Thompson did not capitalize on the success of “Rumour And Sigh” and took more than two years to deliver his next album. Well, it is a mystery only if you are not familiar with the man himself, that is. Thompson did never care about making “commercial” albums, and he has never player by the rules of the industry either. His music is something that is created in a context where expressions like “hit single” or “chart success” are either redefined or absolutely discarded. And there is no clearer example of that than the album he was to finally release long after “Rumour And Sigh” had run its course.
The album was to be titled “Mirror Blue” (after a poem by Lord Tennyson which is quoted on the booklet), and it would be the penultimate album that Mitchell Froom was to produce for Thompson. Many would point his fingers at the finished album, and cite Froom’s production as the reason it could not dent the charts. But today we know that Richard was the main instigator for the somehow disconcerting drum sound that was employed in the end. If anything, it seems as if Thompson was doing all he could to decommercialize the album, as if the successes attained by “Rumour And Sigh” were a cause of concern. More than anything, one is left feeling that Thompson came up with a disc to please his long time fans after having created one that pleased casual listeners, as if all he wanted to do was prove he could have mainstream success if he wanted to.
The themes he broaches are true to his best compositions – people who feel too much in too limited ways like the character from “For The Sake Of Mary” (and whose narrowness ultimately seals his fate) and delinquents like Shane and Dixie (two non-hopers who might as well have been called Sid and Nancy) are some of the protagonists you get to know during the disc’s duration. You feel you have met them before in different guises if you have been a listener of Thompson’s albums for a while, but there are topics which are infinite in themselves. Leaving aside the inherent nefarious thrill of such stories, I believe that tales about wrongdoing are always alluring if only because we believe deep down inside that by being exposed to other people’s faults me might be eventually able to address our own shortcomings. That might explain the popularity of songs like “1952 Vincent Black Lighting” from the previous album, and the heart-rending “Beeswing” from this one. “Beeswing” is a delicate Celtic ballad in which the fierceness of young love is demolished against the ineluctability of maturing. The final verse is bestial in its desolation. The listeners who have been there themselves will sink low for sure, and younger listeners will have one of the harder-hitting reality checks of their lives. Continue reading →
"Mighty Like A Rose" Was Elvis Costello's First Album Of The '90s. It Had A New Collaboration With Paul McCartney Named "So Like Candy".
I will never forget how much I resisted buying this album. The guys at the CD store had it for a long, long time. I was dead against getting my hands on another disc that had “Hurry Down Doomsday”. One copy of that song as part of the “Extreme Honey” compilation sufficed. Plus, the other songs I knew from “Mighty Like A Rose” clearly signaled that the CD stood as the highest peak within Elvis career as far as inventiveness that spilled into weirdness went.
Eventually, that was what made me shell out for the album. I just admire the man, and I had to see what did exactly happen for him to end up cutting a disc with a string quartet just two years later.
Funny enough, I did not get that answer. What I got was a CD that was (and still is) impenetrable. The level of musical chaos and the jumble of styles make for one of the most hostile records I have ever come across.
The production is certainly a major issue. Those who complain about the way Mitchell Froom produced Richard Thompson should give “Mighty Like A Rose” a spin in order to realize that they shouldn’t complain to begin with. But Elvis also had his own way behind the mixing board, so that he was as much of an instigator as anybody.
A sonic avalanche heralds the first cut, “The Other Side Of Summer”. Simply put, it sounds like The Beach Boys on every kind of substance you could ever imagine. Still, it is the one composition where an approach that is heavy-handed elsewhere works out. Whether that is because it is the first song out of the fourteen on offer and that it catches you while you are still fresh could be debated, though – when I listen to the song on “Extreme Honey” I am not that keen on it. Continue reading →
The second section of the album (“Heroes in the Suburbs”) is the one that includes “Crawl Back (Under My Stone)”, “Uninhabited Man”, and “Walking The Long Miles Home”. These are an idiosyncratic reagge-ish number, a celtic-flavored composition and a song which is “a little bit country” respectively. I especially like “Crawl Back (Under My Stone)”, a number in which the character conveys as much self-esteem as it is necessary for him to achieve his aim – don’t be fooled, he is not as innocuous as he might seem. And “Walking The Long Miles Home” has catchy choruses on the strength of the rhyme scheme that is employed. The lyric is funny, too.
This part of the album also has “Dry My Tears And Move On”, a song not dissimilar to a soul ballad that might as well have the best middle eight of the whole record. Continue reading →
Richard Thompson's "Mock Tudor" Was First Issued In 1999. It is Split In Three Parts That Chronicle Life In The Suburbs All Through The 20th Century.
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. Continue reading →