He was so crucial to my beloved Fairport Convention, along with Sandy Denny, and the band was never quite the same after they left. He is not a great singer, but an exquisite songwriter. She was a session singer who was working with him on his first solo record. They married and created an amazing record here. The only one that matches this record in their career for brilliance is their last one, the messy divorce album Shoot Out The Lights. Rarely does a couple work so well together on record.
I went with the lovely and moody folk of I Want to See The Bright Lights over Shoot Out The Lights simply because I prefer it. I acknowledge up front that over two albums, the latter is a stronger set of songs and better produced, considering the shoestring budget that album had. I just really like this record.
It s an album that seems to come out of a weird place. Newlyweds, they write an album full of exhaustion and weariness. It’s not a happy record. In fact, I take it as foreshadowing of trouble to come.
Take the title track, a horn filled pop song about going out for the weekend. It seems light and cheerful on the surface, but when the lyrics about drinking and being a mess seep in, you realize that our narrator is one of those young girls who just cannot be alone for a single evening, and all of a sudden, the song begins to weigh heavily on your mind. How many times have you been that girl? I was her all through my first year of college.
The unbearably sad “Withered and Died” remains the best song Richard Thompson ever wrote, a bleak look at life being against one’s wish to be happy, throwing at you misery after misery, and then abandoning you alone to look at the mess. It’s a song I hear now as I get older and seem to relate to more and more.
The album is filled with sad songs like this, from the helplessness of ” We Sing Hallelujah” and the tale of family neglect that is “The End Of The Rainbow”. There is little here that represents joy and happiness. Alcoholism, family pain, loneliness- these themes appear again and again in Richard’s lyrics, and the darkness of his world view was often offered up as a reason why his brilliant and melodic songs were so grossly neglected.
There is a beauty amidst the sadness, in the melodies and the harmonies. But it is not an album to listen to when you are in despair for it won’t uplift you. And if you are in a space of joy, it’ll bring you down. It’s the album you listen to when you are feeling ambivalent, and you take what you need from it. It’s simply a perfect confluence of honesty and lyrical loveliness.