The Thompson Family – Family (2014)

No, you are not hallucinating! Your humble blogger finally got around to reviewing something current.

Richard and Linda Thompson separated romantically and professionally after a stormy tour to promote their 1982 release Shoot Out The Lights. With an irony that seems to have typified their career it was by some distance their best selling album together.

In recent years, since Linda’s surprising second coming (her 2002 release Fashionably Late was her first release in nearly 20 years) they have occasionally worked on the same track or even, and even more occasionally, taken to the same stage at the same time.

Now (this month, in fact) they both appear on a family album. Richard, Linda, their kids, a grand kid, Richard’s son from his second marriage, daughter Kami’s husband and a few others with claims to being part of the family.

Spare a thought for the offspring: Pa is an all time great guitarist with a glittering songwriting career behind him and, as far as anybody can see, ahead of him. Ma is a much respected, critically praised and influential singer with a younger generation of British folk singers still holding her in awe. You’d think they’d take up accountancy or project management, but two of the three have emphatically gone into the family business and a couple more are gaining experience and standing on the precipice.

It was said of son Teddy early on that he couldn’t play guitar like his father, couldn’t sing like his mother. He alludes to this in the opening track where he details the various curses placed on him by birth – including two drop dead gorgeous sisters, one of whom is a fine singer in her own right. He is, he sings, the red-headed middle son.

And it’s tempting to play amateur psychologist with this album, but probably best not to. So many folks over the years have concluded or just accepted the conventional “wisdom” that Shoot Out The Lights details the Thompson’s divorce, but the reality is that it doesn’t (details on request). So beware of reading too much between the lines with this family.

Not that there aren’t carrots dangling. Richard’s “One Life At A Time” is tantalisingly and not atypically misanthropic. Linda sings of longing for a fight to end in “Perhaps We Can Sleep”.

But there’s more here. Richard also gets in a good sing-along protest song with “That’s Enough”. Kami and her husband serve up two strong songs with healthy doses of wit and irony. Linda gives us “Bonny Boys”, a tender word of advice from somebody who is old enough to not sound corny dishing it out to the young men in her family.

Intriguingly – if you want to get into the family dynamics – grandson Zak Hobbs takes the guitar solo on “One Life At A Time”, rushing in where his uncle Teddy feared to tread. He sounds a LOT like the old man too.

This is an album that couldn’t have happened way back when. Producer and co-ordinator Teddy sent the tracks back and forth acrooss the interweb and the entire family never sat together in one studio. Seven studios and ten engineers are credited. Teddy declared himself in charge of the project and ordered overdubs and replacement performances as he saw fit. (In the liner notes he observes that “there’s nothing so satisfying as erasing your parents.” But we won’t get into that sort of Freudian stuff. No. Definitely not.)

And herein lies one of the problems. As good as some of the tracks are the album doesn’t quite hang together. Some of the tracks have a distractingly different sonic quality from the others.

It’s a curate’s egg of an album. Good in parts, but the uneven sound and, it has to be said, the uneven quality of the material are large-ish warts. A couple of numbers sound like home recordings – and the sort of recordings that should stay at home. If you have this on CD (and I do, for a change) then your finger will start reaching for the skip button at times.

But it’s by no means a waste of time or money. The good parts are good enough and in sufficient quantity that even if you don’t want to ponder the family dynamics (did I mention that Richard and Linda don’t thank each other in the liner notes?) there’s enjoyment to be had here.

There are even going to be some supporting gigs. Linda is not on the bill for these, but that’s more about a disability that renders her unable to sing on demand (the treatment includes botox shots into the vocal chords) than any lingering resentment.


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