Multi-disc box-sets usually fall into two categories -- they're either overstuffed "Greatest Hits" compilations, or packed with enough rarities to ensure loyal fans will part with their money. Since Richard Thompson's career hasn't sent him perilously close to worldwide stardom, the triple-disc anthology Watching the Dark was created with the latter market in mind, and if it falls short of being the perfect overview of Thompson's wildly varied career, it's a superb set that manages the not-inconsiderable feat of drawing an accurate picture of the height and breadth of Thompson's body of work, and offers enough buried treasures to leave jaded fans chuckling with glee. Sequenced thematically rather than chronologically, Watching the Dark covers Thompson's favorite themes well enough -- there's enough spiritual mystery, mortal heartbreak, and British traditionalism to satisfy nearly anyone -- and while the first priority appears to be Thompson the songwriter, Thompson the musician is documented with a similar degree of devotion. Watching The Dark gives relatively short shrift to Thompson's work with Fairport Convention and his experimental collaborations, but as an overview of his solo work (both with and without former wife and frequent collaborator Linda Thompson), it's remarkably thorough, and packed with fascinating and illuminating rarities. There are copious concert recordings, fascinating studio outtakes, and a handful of otherwise unavailable songs, along with an intelligently chosen selection of highlights from the first 25 years of his career in music. The sheer bulk of Watching the Dark (over three and a half hours of music) makes this a difficult introduction to Richard Thompson's work, but anyone with more than a passing familiarity with his music will be dazzled by it -- few box sets honor their subject with as much intelligence and depth as Watching the Dark.
Watching the Dark Review
by Mark Deming