Across A Crowded Room

Richard Thompson

Polygram Records, 1985

REVIEW BY: Hansen Olson


I doubt I'll ever create great art. There is virtually no chance that I will go down in music history as having made the album of the decade. You see, I'm happily married. Sure, my wife and I fight and argue. There are times when we really don't want to look at each other. Basically, though, we are committed for life. Great music does not come out of such a pedestrian environment.

You want great music? Then, be prepared to have your favorite artist suffer. Be prepared for court battles, physical assaults, and mental anguish. If you don't believe me, then consider these great albums: Blood On The Tracks by Bob Dylan (made while he was divorcing Sara), Here, My Dear by Marvin Gaye (made as a way to pay off a divorce settlement - the best album of the 1970's in my humble opinion), my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Pretender by Jackson Browne (made while Phyllis was confined to a mental hospital - she killed herself a week before it came out) and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac (surely you know THAT story). The list goes on and on. You wanna make great music? Treat your spouse like shit, or, get treated like shit.

Richard Thompson's Across A Crowded Room fits right in with the above classics. Written and made soon after he broke up with his wife and long-time partner Linda Thompson, this album manages to leaven the anger, disgust and helplessness that Thompson so obviously feels with a healthy dose of humor. "Little Blue Number" is not only about artistic thievery, it is about a soul being stolen. Heavy duty stuff, here done with a sly nod and a wink.

Thompson does not have a technically perfect voice. Instead, he has a plaintive wail, suited for the themes of his songs. Schooled in English folk and American folk-rock, Thompson uses words to caress and seduce. What sounds like a lilting ballad of love may actually be a brutal kiss-off. What sounds like it should be an ode to isolation, "I Ain't Gonna Drag My Feet No More," is actually a declaration of hope for the future.

Anyone who has heard this album has his/her favorite song. Mine is "When The Spell Is Broken." It has it all. Excellent guitar solos (Thompson is probably one of the best living guitarists in the world!). Beautiful harmonies, courtesy of Clive Gregson and Christine Collister. Excellent musicians. Simon Nicol and Dave Mattacks both worked with Richard Thompson in Fairport Convention, one of the great, obscure bands of the 60's. Most of all, the song has great lyrics, "all the joy has gone from her face, welcome back to the human race!" "you can't cry if you don't know how." and, best of all, "love letters you wrote get pushed back down your throat and leave you chokin', when the spell is broken." Aw, man, it makes me want to cut off my ear or something. I can't believe the guy hasn't offed himself yet!

This is it folks! An album for those depressing winter blaahs! A classic of any genre. Take a chance. Take your Prozac and put your headphones on. There's a cloud around every silver lining. Just ask Richard Thompson!

Rating: A

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© 1997 Hansen Olson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Polygram Records, and is used for informational purposes only.