New Music

Richard Thompson's new album is so good it's bad.

Published May 29, 2007 10:01AM (EDT)

Sweet Warrior," Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson's "Sweet Warrior" is an album of immaculately played, thoughtfully written and original-sounding folk-rock. It's also drab, unengaging and frequently boring. In a rare conundrum for a rock musician, Thompson might be too smart and too savvy for his own good.

The problem isn't that Thompson is dropping $10 words or singing about space-time, but rather that his work on "Sweet Warrior" is so refined and pitch-perfect that it lacks immediacy or urgency. Take the album's lyrics -- a doomed soldier in "Daddy's Gonna Kill Me" doesn't die, but instead an "angel [gets] his wings." A scorned lover doesn't tell his regretful ex "no," he tells her it's "too late to come fishing." Never one to use straightforward language when a metaphor will do, Thompson's lyrical flourishes too often rob his songs of visceral impact.

Thompson's music -- call it Celtic folk-rock -- suffers from the same problem. For all their silvery, spidery grace, the guitar solos on "I'll Never Give It Up" and "Sneaky Boy" give off about as much heat as a mathematical proof. The same goes for "Needle and Threat" -- with its needlessly convoluted stop-start arrangement -- as well as the stately/somnolent "Take Care the Road You Choose."

A surplus of talent and smarts does offer some benefits, though. Thompson knows how to use his graveyard burr to full effect, whether cooing ("Take Care the Road You Choose") or sneering ("Johnny's Far Away") and one could even imagine the zydeco-influenced "Bad Monkey" and the rockabilly bump of "Mr. Stupid" inciting a dance-off between Edmund Spenser scholars. Tracks like those prove that, 40 years into his career, Thompson is probably incapable of making a flat-out bad album. It just so happens that a little bit of bad would've made "Sweet Warrior" a whole lot better.

Favorite track: "I'll Never Give It Up"

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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