A Hero In The Suburbs: Richard Thompson’s Mock Tudor at 20
A look back at the British guitar hero’s last album for Capitol
As eloquent as he is eccentric, Richard Thompson has always been deliberating unpredictable to say the very least.
From his very first album, Henry the Human Fly, an LP that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the worst-selling album in the history of Warner Bros. Records, to his ongoing redefinition of English folk tradition as begun through his seminal recordings with Fairport Convention and his experimental efforts with avant-garde guitarist Henry Kaiser and others, he never fails to measure up to his continuing acclaim as one of modern music’s most distinctive artists. It’s a credit to his credence that the kudos he’s earned as a guitarist rival his reputation as the consummate songsmith.
That said, Thompson was often a petulant personality. A current archival collection, Across a Crowded Room — Live at Barrymore’s 1985, captures a moment in time in which he was not only baring his soul, but his fangs as well. His divorce from wife Linda was officially a fait accompli, and the descriptive titles showcased in concert – “She Twists the Knife Again, “Warm Love Gone Cold,” “Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed,” Love in a Faithless Country, “I Ain’t Going To Drag My Feet No More,” “Nearly in Love” – found him barely able to contain his anger and contempt. Much of that animosity and disappointment was reconciled and resolved by the time Mock Tudor was released in 1999, but hints of that recrimination lingered long after the fact. Certain songs – “That’s All, Amen,” “Close the Door,” “I Hope You Like the New Me,” “Two-Faced Love,” “Hard On Me,” “Uninhabited Man,” and “Dry My Tears and Move On” – suggest that the wounds hadn’t fully healed even 15 years later.
Ostensively though, that wasn’t the point. In effect, the album was a fond and fanciful look back at simpler times, as distilled through memories of his youth and the poets and playwrights that helped define that view of English history, habits and traditions.
Mock Tudor also marked Thompson’s final album for Capitol Records for whom he had produced some of this best efforts to date, Amnesia, Rumor and Sigh and Mirror Blue, among them. It was a solidly rocking efforts, one of his most straight forward yet, and yet that wry attitude persisted. “No pain, no gain’s a strain,” “ he sings in “Bathsheeba Smiles,” one of the most enduring offerings in the set. “Two-faced love that make me doubt my mind/Two-faced love that keep me paralyzed,” he wails on “Two-Faced Love,” the song that follows. Far from the idyllic intent suggested in its set-up, it’s primed with remorse, resolve and animosity, emotions that never seem to drift far from the surface. Those sentiments belie the recurring refrain in the sturdy and stalwart “I’ll Dry My Tears and Move on.” And while the album is actually broken into three sections, subtitled “Metroland,” “Heroes in the Suburbs” and “Street Cries and Stage Whispers,” in truth there’s little variation in tone or treatment. It might have had something to do that he had his usual cohorts in tow — specifically drummer Dave Mattacks and bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), as well as son Teddy Thompson in one of his first recording appearances — but more likely it owes to the fact that Thompson has never been one to curb his emotional instincts. The implementation of Beck’s powerhouse production tag team of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf for the album surely lent it’s own level of gravitas to the music here as well.
Ultimately, Mock Tudor remains an emphatic effort and, as always, an example of Thompson’s ability to strip the sound back to its barest basics without foregoing its inherent urgency and deliberation. In that sense, there’s certainly nothing false or phony about Mock Tudor whatsoever.
AUDIO: Mock Tudor (full album)
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