Saturday, September 5, 2009

479. I want to see the Bright Lights tonight- Industrial Revolution Retro.

Album: I want to see the bright lights tonight.

Artist: Richard and Linda Thompson.

Year: 1974

Genre: Traditional English Folk music.


1 When I Get To The Border
2 The Calvary Cross
3 Withered and Died
4 I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
5 Down Where The Drunkards Roll
6 We Sing Hallelujah
7 Has He Got A Friend For Me
8 The Little Beggar Girl
9 The End Of The Rainbow
10 The Great Valerio

I’ve never fully understand what constitutes folk music. What is and isn’t folk? Who listens to folk? What sort of folk are folk folk?

I want to see the bright lights tonight by Richard and Linda Thompson is definitely folk music. It uses terms that haven’t been used outside folk music in centuries (“sawbones” “drunkard” “briar” “Skivver” “peg leg”) it features instruments that probably had to be borrowed from museums for the recording sessions. It has the vocal intonation of someone who thinks nothing of holding a vowel sound and then wandering it around for a few octaves until it feels at home. Most of the songs are about tragedy. It’s definitely folk. But Richard Thompson sneaks a few modern electric instruments in as well so it’s plugged-in folk sitting awkwardly amongst unplugged folk.

The final effect sounds like a demented, alcohol-fuelled jam session. I can imagine a pub somewhere in a forgotten bit of England. The Cotswolds for example. I’ve got no idea where the Cotswolds are but they sound like a folky place. Actually no, forget that- this pub I’m imagining is in a place that refers to the Cotswolds as The Big Smoke. It’s a tiny place that has nothing much except a general store and a tavern called The King and Scrotum or something equally fantastic. The pub is beer stained, smells of nicotine and serves drinks in tankards. It’s populated by people with huge beards, most of whom are men. In addition to heavy drinking and complaining about tourists, the locals like nothing more than having a good sing-song. Some old farmers in quality knitwear pull out wind instruments with names like the flooverhorn and the Spuckwhistle and the local poacher sits down with a nineteen-stringed cousin of the lute called a plonkthwaddle and they all fanny around the edges of an old tune made popular by smugglers. Someone plays percussion on an instrument covered in the skin of a pig they killed with their own hands.

From time to time everyone stops while one of the womenfolk accompanies herself while she sings a tragic ballad. When she’s finished everyone sniffs back a tear before someone says “Right lads, who knows “Greselda the buxom farmers wife?” and some wit chimes back “Well oi met her once but from what oi hears oi don’t know her as well as yerself!” and the whole bar collapses with mirth like it’s the first time this joke has been cracked. The instruments come out again although this time someone smuggles an electric guitar onstage and everyone is too drunk to notice. After a few more tales of tragedy impending someone pulls a Hammond B3 organ from their beard but the entire bar is too drunk to care. A knees-up is had and everyone passes out just as the last note is played.

I struggle to know what market Richard Thompson was pitching this too. Surely die-hard folkies don’t want electric guitar all over their music and scoff into their pewter beverage containers at the notion of an amp joining a band on stage. And the sort of people who love a good, wailing lead break would be put off by songs with lines like: “A gent such as thee.” It’s a weird mix. More puzzling to me is why the hell anyone would write an album as if they’re churning out tunes for a pre-Dickensian audience? When I first heard this I thought it was an album of old English Folk songs modernised slightly. I was surprise to find all the compositions were original. Did the world need any more songs that sound like they were written in the 1800’s? Was there a void in the market? Surely the 1800’s produced enough. The whole thing works like a period album from a period that nobody wants to revisit. At one point Thompson sings about wanting a “salty girl.What the hell is a salty girl and what’s she doing kicking around in an album released in the 1970’s? I just don’t get it.

Apparently this is a masterpiece but frankly I couldn’t see it. I found the whole thing to be really painful to listen to. Linda Thompson’s voice does nothing for me and the attempt to replicate authentic English Folk (with added fender strats) just got on my nerves. Don’t sing about being a dancing peg-legged beggar girl unless you’re actually a unidexter who is forced to samba for cash, that’s my philosophy.

Highlight: The title track is really nice when it’s sung by other people.

Lowlight: The great Valerio, the worst song about a tight rope walker I’ve ever heard.

Influenced by: The black death, rum, sodomy and the lash.

Influenced: Anyone who loves the sound of an amplified six string but still yearns for the days when you could whip slaves and defecate into a porcelain pot kept beneath the bed.

Favourite amazon customer review quote: Linda's singing is as perfectly plaintive as a lonely bagpipe."

-Yes. Bagpipes are a great analogy for her voice. It does remind me of a bagpipe. And there’s a very good reason why most bagpipes can be described as lonely.

So is this full of bright lights or do you take a dim view of the whole album? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't heard this album, but I feel inclined to listen to it, now. It sounds positively intriguing.