Richard and Linda Thompson / I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

Fan Post by Thomas Bedenbaugh

My dad’s musical taste was a very formative precursor for my own budding obsession with music. He owned almost every Beatles album, which allowed me to sit in my room for hours listening to Revolver and Rubber Soul on repeat. One of his favorite genres of music since his college days has been folk rock and all of the wild variations that fall under the term. From Arthur Lee’s baroque inflected paranoia with love to Bob Dylan’s brooding abstractions, which are equal parts introspective and manic, to the sugary folk rock/pop of the early Byrds, folk rock in all of its facets was something I absorbed and continue to love to this day.

However, my love for folk rock as a genre did little to prepare me for Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.  As far as music made by spouses, it ranks right up there with ABBA and The White Stripes at their peaks. While both musicians get tracks as solo featured vocalists, they also compliment each other when their voices gloriously weave together in songs like “Down Where the Drunkards Roll.” The eclectic instrumentation — including accordions, hammered dulcimers, and mandolins — recall Richard Thompson’s days as a member of Fairport Convention, while anticipating the Celtic folk and punk of the Pogues that would emerge a decade later. The album’s pervasive melancholy and Thompson’s idiosyncratic, emotional guitar playing can also be seen in some of Bon Iver’s work today.

The songs here deal with themes like growing old and the uncertainty that comes with aging (“The End of the Rainbow”), loneliness (“Has He Got a Friend For Me), and being stuck in a desperate situation with no hope for escape (“The Calvary Cross”, “Down Where the Drunkards Roll”). The lyrics are at the same time visionary and down-to-earth, dealing with the anxieties and fears that come with moving through the world.  Being at a point in life where I’m unsure of my place, I found the album to be haunting, beautiful and heartbreaking. Ultimately, it’s a timeless piece that I wish I had listened to it much earlier in my life, but still serves a purpose for me today.

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