Richard Thompson: Daring Adventures (1986)

Not long after its initial release, this – on tape, yes – was my introduction to Richard Thompson. Nearly thirty years later (good lord!) it remains my favourite album of his, and one of my all time preferred “go to” albums.

This was Thompson’s first collaboration with producer Mitchell Froom, who specialises in roots rock (Thompson, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos etc), going for a big, clear sound with in-your-face percussion and lo-fi guitars. A perfect match for Thompson then, and it’s a testament to the success of their work together that this album, a major label release from slap bang in the middle of the 80s, doesn’t suffer from any of the pitfalls of Big 80s Production and still sounds fresh.

Some of Thompson’s old school Aran jumper-wearing fans, and a few of his peers, had some public digs at him for this one, dismissing it as an overtly commercial sell-out. Which is absurd. Certainly, there is a greater diversity of influences and styles on display than previously but that’s part of what makes this considerably less of a commercial “safe bet” than its predecessors. I suspect the fan’s barbs were rooted in dismay over the comparative dearth of straight forward Fairport-style folk rock, and those of his peers in professional jealousy.

In truth, Daring Adventures provides ample evidence of Thompson’s oft-touted genius for both songwriting and guitar playing.  Also on display is a willingness to stretch himself artistically in ways he hadn’t quite done before which, when talking about Richard Thompson, is really saying something.

First track, A Bone Through Her Nose is a harsh-vibed culture clash of a tune, with middle eastern themes, electric guitars and bass stuttering funkily along over a humorously off-kilter lyric. Valerie is a roots rocker about a challenging relationship (“I can’t afford her on my salary …”) with a cool celtic rock breakdown and some jagged soloing.

More in keeping with Thompson’s folk rock roots are ballad Missie How You Let Me Down and uptempo Dead Man’s Handle while Long Dead Love is a roots rock ballad with hints of blues, powerfully executed with a snarling guitar solo on the outro that could have done without the premature fadeout. Side One closes with the downright unsettling Lover’s Lane, an eerie mood piece highlighting the backing vocals of Christine Collister and Clive Gregson.

Side Two leads with more folk-rock, the downright cheerful Nearly In Love, a missed opportunity for a hit single I’d have thought, followed by the album’s weakest moment, Jennie, a capable but overlong ballad. It’s a four song strong sprint to the finish from there though; Baby Talk is lyrically tongue-in-cheek Cajun rock’n’roll contrasting perfectly with the angry recession-era commentary Cash Down Never Never. The big finish comes from the gorgeous acoustic ballad How Will I Ever Be Simple Again, which could bring a tear to a glass eye, and Al Bowlly’s In Heaven. This final track, telling the sorry story of the post-war struggles of a WWII veteran is, unusually for Thompson, a jazz-blues number featuring a great and surprisingly conventional acoustic solo in that style.

This tape (purchased online for three quid all-in) is a 1992 BGO remastered reissue. The packaging is a lyric-heavy foldout which is nice, more expansive if I remember correctly than the Polydor original. There’s nothing particularly notable about the remastering except that it perhaps sounded a tad flat, which in fairness was likely due to the deck I was using. The tape itself sounded okay on first play but on this listen it unravelled as comprehensively as a reality TV star in sudden career decline. The evil dirty bastard of a thing. - Richard Thompson Daring Adventures