Richard Thompson: Sweet Warrior

The understated guitar god and top-notch songwriter returns with an excellent album of wry rockers, Brit-folk ballads, and protest songs.

Richard Thompson

Sweet Warrior

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2007-05-29
UK Release Date: 2007-05-28

Music fans, have I got the hot tip for you! See, there's this new kid on the block, name of Richard Thompson. British guy. Plays guitar like nobody's business. And the songs? Yeah, the kid knows his away around all that verse-chorus-verse mumbo-jumbo, let me tell you. And this record of his, Sweet Warrior? Palsy, this baby's the real deal.

Okay, so maybe ol' RT has been around since the age of black and white TV. And maybe it's hard to sell the average music buyer on the notion of getting all worked up about a new album from a man who's been issuing a steady stream of LPs for forty years now. Even a non-orthodox Dickhead (as his fans are known) like myself doesn't get excited about all of his releases. Along with the studio albums, there are copious live CDs, plus his work on a couple of soundtracks. To sort out the exceptional Richard Thompson album from the merely good, one would require the help of a qualified professional.

And, just as soon as I find one, I'll let you know [buh-dum-bump]. Hey, that joke might be even older than Thompson's music career.

Seriously, folks. Sweet Warrior is the consummate Richard Thompson album, offering excellent examples of all the styles he has offered over the years. There are wry rockers, bittersweet ballads, strains of British folk, and the fluid guitar interludes that have made Thompson an understated god of the six-string.

He also maintains an important tradition among the storytellers of songwriting: Richard Thompson gives voice to the current events that affect our lives. On the bluesy, violin-kissed "Dad's Gonna Kill Me", he displays a hip knowledge of military slang, carving a war protest tune out of a phrase generally reserved for kids awaiting their father's wrath. In this case, "Dad" is short for Baghdad. Here's a stanza that hits the mark:

Dad's in a bad mood, Dad's got the blues

It's someone else's mess that I didn't choose

At least we're winning on the Fox Evening News

Nobody loves me here

A master of inflection, Thompson injects a sharp dose of venom into the word "Fox" that would chill the heart of Rupert Murdoch, if such an organ existed. At song's end, RT's guitar solo bends and stabs with beauty and killer grace.

On album opener "Needle and Thread", Thompson displays his penchant for mixing dark humor with introspection, as he pledges to use the titular objects to "sew [his] soul back together again". Should you feel sorry for him or laugh along with him? As always, the line is fine in a Richard Thompson song, and it's this ambiguity that makes the man's songwriting that much more delicious.

Elsewhere, he snarls his defiance in the chugging "I'll Never Give It Up"; ruminates on big life decisions on the lovely and airy "Take Care the Road You Choose"; and finds a thorny-yet-winning hook in the "nyah-nyah" melody in "Sneaky Boy". Whatever the tempo or mood, the songs on Sweet Warrior are uniformly strong. His best set since 1999's Mock Tudor, the new disc is among his most accomplished and is also immediately appealing. If you're a lapsed Dickhead, Sweet Warrior would make for a great reintroduction to Richard Thompson. Likewise, should you require only one RT album per decade, this disc may well stand as his best of the 2000s. Or, if you've never before had the good fortune of having a friend implore you to listen to and love a particular Richard Thompson album, start with Sweet Warrior and work your way backward through his long and exceptional discography. Wow, are you in for a treat.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.