If they haven't already done so by the time this ink has dried, Polydor should get on the stick and issue "Nearly in Love" as a single ASAP. Frankly, they may never get Richard Thompson this close to the Top Forty again. A hilarious declaration of romantic indecision, this buoyant gem, which opens side two of Daring Adventures, has a rousing chorus, a comfy bed of Cajunstyle accordion from the English squeeze-box maestro John Kirkpatrick and some of the driest chuckles this side of Elvis Costello ("I want to make quite sure/That it's not just a dose of the flu/That gives me the chills for you"). It also has a good beat and you can dance to it.
Of course, the extraordinary British singer, songwriter and guitarist is not a marvel of modern pop by virtue of his chart action. But the striking, often grim eloquence of Thompson's romantic narratives, his dexterous soloing and his miraculous weaving of folk, jazz and rockabilly source material have been well-kept secrets for too long. It's a terminal sourpuss who remains unmoved, for example, by the heartbreak of "Missie How You Let Me Down" or the snake-charmer sass of "A Bone Through Her Nose," the tragicomic portrayal of a party gal who can't keep up with the New Wave Joneses. ("And three times now at the Club Chi-Chi they've turned her away.... In a few more years she can marry some fool and knock it on the head.")
Wisely, producer Mitchell Froom — taking over for longtime Thompson mentor Joe Boyd — has applied a very subtle hand here. Judicious touches like the glassy cascades of hammer dulcimer in "Jennie" and the eerie death-rattle percussion in "Lovers Lane" highlight the universal poignancy of Thompson's in-and-out-of-love songs. One of Richard Thompson's most startling talents is his ability to draw us inexorably into the darkest corners of a troubled relationship. In the haunting "Long Dead Love," he does it with agonized singing ("How much dirt must you shovel on what's already dead?") and atypically violent guitar work that seethes with pain and frustration.
Daring Adventures' strangest detour is a kitchen-sink production called "Cash Down Never Never," an awkwardly constructed stomp in which a debtor's plight is illustrated by the wiggly electronic whistle of a theremin and other horror-movie sound effects. Then, with calm assurance, Thompson follows it with the stark, acoustic "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again," a soldier's plaintive mourning for lost innocence.
As far back as his early electric-folk experiments with Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson has stressed the union of extremes without contradicting himself, and, at least for his devoted fans, Daring Adventures reconfirms the depth and breadth of his remarkable powers. For everyone else, it's a trip you've put off for much too long.