Richard and Linda Thompson
"I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
An almost surefire way to draw attention to your band is to have a female lead singer. A modern example is Allison Mosshart of The Kills/The Dead Weather. Jamie Hince and Jack White respectively do most of the leg work for the two bands, but the sales wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Mosshart’s sultry vocals. “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” by Richard and Linda Thompson is a similar idea. Richard’s first solo album, “Henry the Human Fly,” was critically panned. He married backup singer Linda Peters and brought her to the front, and boom, success.
Okay, no, it wasn’t that simple. The success of “Bright Lights” is based more on Richard’s better songwriting than just simply letting Linda sing. “Bright Lights” is a look at the various layers of English society, and much like all of his work to come, it isn’t optimistic.
To call some of the tracks on this album “bleak” would be a significant understatement. In “Has He Got a Friend For Me,” Linda laments “He wouldn’t notice me passing by, I could be in the gutter or dangling down from a tree.” The bitterly titled “The End of The Rainbow” features Richard’s sigh: “There’s no reason to grow up anymore.”
More enjoyable to listen to are the tracks that disguise the pessimism with upbeat instrumentation however. “We Sing Hallelujah” are the words sung during that same track as the chorus by Richard and Linda, making the listener forget about the bleak narrative in the verses. “The Little Beggar Girl” takes a sarcastic look at panhandlers in London, complemented by an buoyant accordion. The album’s title track might be a jab at the nation’s upper class youth, but otherwise is the most upbeat song on the record.
The addition of Linda is a significant advantage to Richard’s solo work, even if he did write all of the songs. Richard’s Scottish accent has its charms, but imagining the title track or “We Sing Hallelujah” without Linda’s voice seems to relegate them to being merely hip. Linda’s vocals add a level of pop sensibility to Richard’s bittersweet tales. Granted, this folk was never meant to be a best seller, but Linda’s contributions make it more feasible for a wider audience. Thompson earns his own credit for songwriting of course, but also for supplying the guitar, and traditional instruments like the mandolin and dulcimer.
This album’s influence can be heard in its successors. Celtic punk group Flogging Molly might travel at a faster pace, but much like the Thompsons they shift tempo between tracks and incorporate traditional instruments, and P.J. Harvey’s 2011 album “Let England Shake” echoes the conceptual look at English society.
INTERESTING FACT: The only difference between a silver band and a brass band is that members of the former can afford to get their instruments covered in a coat of silver. This has very little to do with this album, except for the title track.