Picks and Pans Review: Across a Crowded Room
For 10 years and six albums, the English couple Richard and Linda Thompson produced music that stood out like a British Army recruiter at a punk nightclub in Liverpool. Their records, from 1974's I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight through 1982's Shoot Out the Lights, spurned modern trends in favor of traditional Celtic-influenced melodies. Now, nearly three years after their marital and artistic divorce, Linda takes an unflinching look back at the breakup on One Clear Moment. Can't Stop the Girl is an upbeat avowal to survive and conquer the past, but most of the album is an examination of what happens to the emotional debris when love ends. The lyrics to Telling Me Lies are typically trenchant: "Should have seen you for what you are/Should never have come back for more...I cover my ears, I close my eyes/I still hear your voice and it's telling me lies." Linda has, for the most part, modernized her style. Best of Friends and Hell, High Water and Heartache for instance, could conceivably have been written by Carly Simon. Hugh Murphy produced One Clear Moment and he gave the record an uncluttered, incisive mood. Linda's voice is, as always, clear and ringing, conveying feeling without resorting to dramatics. On Richard's Across a Crowded Room (Polygram), he is as gifted and idiosyncratic as ever. The former guitarist-vocalist for the British folk-rock group Fairport Convention is still in the thrall of a decidedly different drummer. When the Spell Is Broken, a sad ballad about lost love, is dominated by his Celtic background, but Little Blue Number, with its pedal-steel guitar, is nearly blue-grass. On the livelier songs, such as Fire in the Engine Room, or the shuffle You Don't Say, Richard's dolorous vocal style makes him sound like a funeral singer moonlighting at a wedding ceremony. The most outstanding voice on Across a Crowded Room really belongs to Richard's guitar. The instrument soars, hitting note clusters that vividly amplify the mood of Richard's songs. Nearly all of Across a Crowded Room might have been staged on the dark side of the moon. Yet Thompson portrays his desolate landscape so poignantly that it is captivating.
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