Review Summary: British "Rumours" without Hollywoodified production. Basically a stoic, and by turns naturalistic meditation of the break up. Of course, there is no possible answers or exit.
Sometimes showbiz is really, really cruel. But, did ever Richard and Linda want to be part of the showbiz? That couple brought us many magical moments during the 1970s, but they stayed miles away from top lists. Unfortunately it's their divorce album that made them a little bit more popular. Sure, their other albums were (and still are) very good, but this one... Today, there is more overrated stars than ever. Some Croatian "stars" are famous only because of divorce. If only they could record an album like this...
The truth about Thompsons is much more complicated. The bulk of this album was made in 1980, when they were getting along fine. This project was soon abandoned, but in 1982 they finished demos and completed album, around the same time promoted it and divorced. It is easy to look for traces of despair and loneliness. All their records are full of that. It is wrong to attribute that desperation in their vocal chords to divorce, because their first album had a potent dose of depression, recorded 8 years before. But it is possible that the heavy circumstances gave them the edge in their performances.
There are similar albums which bring the pain of separation: "Visitors" from ABBA and Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours". While full of great songs and visceral performances, these albums are saturated by the very expensive MOR production. On "Shoot Out The Lights" there is really spare production, which lets musicians to spread their creative wings. When you listen to Richard and Linda, you can't help but think that they sing somewhere from the village, full of mud. And Lindsey, Stevie and Christina from Fleetwood Mac can sing: "You can go your own way", on "Shoot Out The Lights" there is no other way you can go. Outside the walls there is no shelter or a good friend, but the bunch of people eager to know what is happening, just to satisfy their curiosity. And the life goes on, and you must do things as planned ("Just a Motion"). "Just a Motion" is followed by the title track, fueled by the killing riffs, paranoid solo, and really killing lyrics.
And the last track, in my honest opinion their vocal and songwriting masterpiece has lines such as: "Let me ride the wall of death one more time... this is the nearest to be alive". The lyrics are exclusively about an amusement park, but it is not hard to see it as a metaphor of failed relationship. And while an instrumental intro suggests a perky folk rock laid back tune, Linda and Richard turn it inside out and show why the most powerful instrument is human voice.
Musically speaking, Richard Thompson brought some of his most memorable compositions. It is a well known terrain, imaginative mixture of country, folk, blues, rock, funk and soul. And of course that sounds very British. The weakest link here is a song called "Back Street Slide", it is too funky (mechanic rhythm is better word) and cluttered, but ahead of the 80% of the music production. Other seven songs are pure masterpieces.
For a long time Richard and Linda Thompson have been sidelined by lesser and sometimes uncompetent singers and songwriters. This is a great place to start a long friendship with Thompsons.