Album of the Week, April 27: One Clear Moment by Linda Thompson

LTOneClearLinda Pettifer was born in London and raised in Glasgow. Around the age of 20, she returned to London, singing in folk clubs under the name Linda Peters and recording vocals for jingles to pay the bills. She befriended a number of folk luminaries like Sandy Denny and Martin Carthy and dated legendary producer Joe Boyd. When Denny some of her friends from the Fairport orbits recorded a one-off collection of 50s pop covers as “The Bunch” Linda joined in. This was her first recorded work with acquaintance Richard Thompson. Over the next year she toured with Thompson and Simon Nicol and provided backing vocals for a Fairport disc and Richard’s solo debut. She and Richard married and soon released their first album as Richard and Linda Thompson, the sublime I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. Over the next decade, they released four more albums and spent a few years out of the limelight in Sufi communes. They returned in full force with 1982’s brilliant Shoot Out the Lights, but by then the marriage was over and the brief tour was famously acrimonious. Linda suffered from dysphonia, unable to sing (and sometimes speak) for a couple of years. Finally, her voice back under control, she teamed up with friend Hugh Murphy and his wife Betsy Cook to assemble her first solo album.

Title One Clear Moment
Act Linda Thompson
Label Warner Bros. Release Date Spring 1985
Producer Hugh Murphy
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Can’t Stop the Girl
  2. One Clear Moment
  3. Telling Me Lies
  4. In Love With the Flame
  5. Les Trois Beaux Oiseaux de Paradis
  6. Take Me On the Subway
  7. Best of Friends
  8. Hell, High Water, and Heartache
  9. Just Enough to Keep Me Hanging On
  10. Lover Won’t You Throw Me A Line
  11. Only A Boy

Signed to a major label with Murphy producing and Cook providing musical direction, Thompson set out to make her mark. She also wrote or co-wrote most of the songs, a major change for her. During the decade with Richard, she had only co-written two tracks, both dark woman-of-mystery tunes — Pavanne and Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed? With Cook as a sympathetic co-writer, she found her voice in more ways than one, crafting an amazing set of songs. The album is (in)famous for its very 1985 style production. Despite — and sometimes because of — this, it features some of her finest work and arguably her best vocals outside of Shoot Out the Lights.

Things kick off with a powerful statement of purpose, the anthemic Can’t Stop the Girl. A bold statement of independence, it serves notice that she is making this album as her own woman. It’s also a great song, buoyed by the production and featuring a powerful, joyous vocal. Since it was her first solo release and came out about the same time as Richard’s return to a major label with Across A Crowded Room, many of the lyrics were analyzed through the lens of her personal life. That works in some cases, as Thompson admits, but they are also strong songs of love and life often gone awry, not unusual territory for any phase of her career. After the powerful start, the rest of the disc falls into three categories: the decent, the curious, and the magnificent.

The decent songs are In Love With the Flame, Just Enough to Keep Me Hanging On, and Lover Won’t You Throw Me A Line. They’re solid pop songs about doomed or broken love that feature solid if unimaginative playing and production and sterling vocal work. On most other albums of the time, they would stand out as real gems. Instead, while certainly not filler, they demonstrate the musical partnership’s overall skill without rising to great heights.

There are also three curious songs. Thompson insisted on including a version of Ravel’s Les Trois Beaux Oiseaux des Paradis, a lament about the First World War. Her singing is amazing and the production is sympathetic. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t fit, causing a rare jarring moment on an otherwise cohesive set of songs. Take Me On the Subway is a creepy dance number with great keyboard work from Cook and haunting background vocals by Cook and Thompson in Spanish, Latin, and Arabic. It’s very weird indeed, but somehow it works, especially since it fits the musical tone of the album. It should have been a Dance Chart smash. Best of Friends should have been a smash hit as well. A quiet, sad ballad about a love that has ended, it features a striking vocal that shows off a much more pop side of Thompson’s talent. If it had been recorded by any of the pop balladeers of the day — Gloria Estefan springs to mind — it might well have been a hit. Instead, it’s a special gem in a setting of great songs.

The magnificent songs feature Thompson’s one big hit … when it was recorded by someone else. Telling Me Lies, the track most often assumed to refer to her ex-husband, is one of the best songs on the disc. A few years later, the superstar trio of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt had a Top 10 Country hit with it, resulting in a Grammy nomination for Thompson and Cook as writers. Another track in this category almost falls into the “decent” group, the delightfully bitter Hell, High Water and Heartache. The lyric and vocal help it rise above the pack, however. An acoustic version released on a subsequent rarities album shows off the song even better, in some ways underscoring the fans’ critique of this album’s production. More often than not, however, that’s a shallow criticism, as demonstrated in the stunning title track. One of Thompson’s favorites, it’s a beautiful song of  searching and hope.

The last song on the album, Thompson’s first solo writing credit, remains one of her finest recorded moments. Only A Boy centered on her son, Teddy, and his reaction to his father’s departure. Despite this intensely personal backdrop, the performance is so crystalline and riveting that anyone who has ever been abandoned in any way can easily make it their own. A simple live-in-the-studio voice-and-piano recording, it’s the most like Thompson’s previous work. Nevertheless, in tone and quality it fits the rest of the album perfectly, bringing things to a stunning close.

The album sold poorly and Thompson’s voice gave out again. She didn’t return to the studio for 17 years and it took two more for this great album to finally see a re-release . The Rhino package includes five bonus tracks. Talking Like A Man should have taken the Ravel number’s place on the album instead of being relegated to the B-side of the one single. It’s a fantastic, angry song with solid keyboard backing and a slow burn vocal that really shows off Thompson’s skills. The other four are from a Granada TV music special — covers of Richard’s Shady Lies and three solid pop classics. They’re nice songs, well sung, but very much bonus tracks rather than critical additions.

FURTHER LISTENING: Linda Thompson has never made a bad album. Her work with Richard ranges from the sublime to the solid-but-inconsistent; more on those discs in a future post. Because of her vocal challenges — even today she requires medical treatment to sing for a sustained period — her solo output has been limited. All three albums — featuring son Teddy as a key collaborator and a rotating cast of friends and family — are worth picking up. 2002’s Fashionably Late is the most consistent and critically lauded, featuring a great mix of originals and covers. Versatile Heart from 2007 has slightly higher highs — including the lovely title track and daughter Kami’s marvelous Nice Cars — but is not nearly as consistent. Last year’s It Won’t Be Long Now is my favorite of the three, with Thompson embracing her role as an icon and leader of a fabulous cast of musical friends and family.

Advertisements

About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

RBHSWebComics

all contents © Robert Hulshof-Schmidt

Weekly Top 40

The Weekly Top 40 1955-2016

Major Spoilers

We know you love comics. We do, too.

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Greatest British Songs

The best songs from British bands and artists

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

%d bloggers like this: