Richard Thompson has a lot on his mind, and ways of saying it that are by turns poignant and snappy.
Richard Thompson has a lot on his mind, and ways of saying it that are by turns poignant and snappy. (By Ron Sleznak)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Richard Thompson

At first glance, Richard Thompson's first (mostly) all-electric CD since 2003 appears to be an antiwar gesture. The liner notes contain an Edmund Spenser sonnet with the line "high time it is, this warre now ended were" and a photo of two lovely women kissing a deadpan Thompson in a World War I helmet and camouflage face paint. There's also the grim, funny "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," about a soldier in Iraq who sings: "It's someone else's mess that I didn't choose / At least we're winning on the Fox Evening News."

But "Sweet Warrior" seems to be more about monkeys. Metaphorically speaking.

Thompson, the British guitar virtuoso and veteran singer-songwriter, returns to his sweet spot on songs with bitter, misanthropic, occasionally sociopathic narrators. In "Mr. Stupid," a recent divorcé describes himself sarcastically as a " 'Rang Utan" and complains passive-aggressively about the numbing way his ex portrays him. "Bad Monkey," a barnburner with the rockabilly spirit of Thompson's classic "Crash the Party," reverses the perspective: It's about the worst boyfriend ever, a poor-mannered, suicidal man-child. The song ends with an explosion of Thompson's distinctive, finger-picking guitar curlicues.

Nothing on "Sweet Warrior" is as brilliant as, say, 1991's "I Feel So Good," about a rebel rocker who takes elaborate pleasure from others' pain. But from the opening "Needle and Thread," Thompson's formula is more consistent than it has been in years -- lyrics that careen between pain and pleasure, snappy pop choruses and poignant ballads both Celtic and American, all in a friendly voice that says everything is hilarious and devastating at the same time.

-- Steve Knopper

DOWNLOAD THESE:"Needle and Thread," "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," "Bad Monkey" (Richard Thompson is scheduled to perform at the 9:30 club on June 22.)

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