Mirror Blue

Richard Thompson

(LP - Real Gone Music #1270)

Review by Mark Deming

1991's Rumor and Sigh was among Richard Thompson's best-selling and most warmly received albums, even gaining a bit of radio and MTV exposure which introduced Thompson to a wider audience than ever before. But while Thompson has often expressed his desire to reach a greater number of listeners, he's (thankfully) unwilling to dumb his music down, and it's probably no coincidence that he followed up his most user-friendly album with the more difficult Mirror Blue. Mirror Blue was constructed on a more modest scale, with the arrangements scaled down and the mix putting the instruments in greater relief. While Mitchell Froom's production added both polish and punch to Rumor and Sigh, his work on Mirror Blue marked the point where he began to interfere more than he helped; the tinny, crashing sound he imposes on Thompson's guitar and Pete Thomas' drums soon wears out its welcome, and Froom's washes of retro-styled keyboards are more prominent than they need to be. And while song for song Mirror Blue boasts material just as strong as Rumor and Sigh (if not stronger), the tone is more dour, with the few rockers decidedly less friendly ("Mascara Tears" sounds downright mean) and the ballads more mournful (though "King Of Bohemia" and "Beeswing" are beautiful and affecting if you don't mind a good cry). But Thompson had a great set of songs here, and he performs them with typical fire and precision; his guitar work is glorious, and his vocals are passionate and unusually well controlled. Mirror Blue suggests that, after making an album with the mass audience in mind, Richard Thompson decided to make one for the fans -- and himself -- and if Froom's production sometimes gets in the way, loyalists will find plenty to revel in here.