I can’t lie – much as I was excited about the idea of a new Richard Thompson album, I was a little bit scared with all this early talk of “folk-funk” and such. Electric, Thompson’s latest, features a tight trio tearing through typical Thompson fare. And though that folk-funk description is both accurate and another droll example of Thompson’s self-effacing humour Electric is, simply, (yet) another great Thompson album.
I say ‘simply’ but actually it’s up there with his best work. And there’s nothing simple about that; that’s remarkable given Thompson’s (often) brilliant back catalogue. And his 21st Century output is, to my ears, phenomenal; nothing resembling anything close to a dud.
I was blown away by the Dream Attic record and went on to talk about how Thompson is, somehow, getting better with each album. And that’s continued with Electric. He keeps finding new ways to do the same old things – songs that are funny, dark, twisted, full of heart, surprising, and there’s a joyousness/joyfulness in the playing.
Basically, he feels so good (yet again) he’s gonna break a few (more) hearts.
Songs about people fucking up, being vulnerable, acting with (and on) malicious intent, songs about people waiting for something good to happen, songs of (false) hope – these are staples. But he never sounds like he is repeating himself.
Another magician’s trick is the way Thompson’s constantly inventive guitar solos surprise – he cuts into the tune sideways, he’ll approach the solo from a different angle to any other guitarist; not for him this obvious blues-based attitude/approach. These are solos that invigorate the tune, never feeling like a bag of tricks being sprinkled out to dazzle, deceive or distract. And somehow they transcend the recording process, feeling fresh – and still surprising – on each listen.
In the end the “folk-funk” trio has improved the sound in that the occasional sea-shantyness of previous records has been replaced by a brilliant, brittle crispness. There’s still the defiance, still the energy, still the attack – but it all at once sounds classic/vintage and brand new.
But there’s no new-car smell. This is all lived in and comfy.
With every record Thompson gets better – that’s amazing. And the back catalogue suddenly seems even more impressive. Also quite a feat.
Will it trouble the charts, get airplay, rack up millions in sales? Probably not. It’s Richard Thompson after all. Will it make your world better for hearing it? I think so. The guitar playing is monstrously good, the songs are sharp, spiteful and gorgeous (sometimes by turns, often all at once).
And as seems to (also) be the way, Thompson’s cup of songs runneth over – there’s a bonus disc with a double-handful of (more) strong songs to add to the experience. I imagine all that’s left, next time, is for him to released the same album in two versions, one with him playing right-handed, then again as a southpaw. You can imagine it happening, eh? And he’d likely nail it