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Island (1996)

by AjD

Buy You? Me? Us?

Life is no damned good, you know. If you've been reading this column for any length of time -- and both of you know who you are -- you've seen a lengthy maudlin cataloging of all wrong with the world and what little can be done so late.

I could go on at length about the utter screaming horror which is the Disneyfied version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Apparently, Quasimodo wasn't a dark, bedeviled being reviled by the populace, he was merely depressed and misunderstood! Why, with a couple months of chiropracty and orthodontic work, he could be "The Physically Handicapped (But Whole) Individual of a Nice Paris Suburb".

Victor Hugo is spinning in his grave so violently that it is disrupting the Earth's diurnal rotation.

It will, of course, make millions for Disneyco, who will certainly go on to urinate all over other classics of great literature. I can hardly wait to see Raskalnikov singing and dancing with the old lady he's about to off. Something perky, scored by Elton John or Billy Joel. Let's call it "Minor Infraction and Punishment". While little kids are clutching their grinning Raskalnikov handbags, Disney will be producing their next bound-for-the-Oscars great: "Ulysses", language simplified to fit pop-music rhyming schemes and turned into the story of a young South-Cal boy bummed out by his girlfriend's unfaithfulness after seeing her chastely kiss the dude pouring their cappuccinos at the high-school cafe.

Less evil things are afoot in the music world. Less disturbing. Maybe the implications are more subtle. Maybe I've got my head sufficiently in the sand to filter out all knowledge of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Smashing Pumpkins.

On today's roster of incomplete marvels would be Richard Thompson's "You? Me? Us?", a double-CD collection of all-new tunes. The shame is that this could've made a nice single disk album. The greater shame is that most of the weak half could be as good as the rest if Thompson would shuck the Mitchell Froom/Tchad Blake production team who have served to turn his last few albums glossy and slick, a shine as if coated by too many layers of urethane.

And as natural to the touch. There are great songs lurking under performances dulled, perhaps by too many takes, perhaps by the airless space the recording embodies. The last few years' circulation of concert bootlegs have served to prove that Thompson has, if anything, honed his performing skills to an intuitive excellence, and that his songs, sounding tepid on legit releases, have grace and beauty in themselves and in how Thompson performs them.

The producers of this record have attempted to appropriate the reputation (justified, if not well-enough known) of Thompson's solo concerts by pairing a disk of 'conventional' rockinroll-type stuff with a disk of 'acoustic' recordings. But too many takes, or too many retakes, or too many dubs, and or perhaps simply the lack of an audience for Thompson to play to, all conspire to make the acoustic side sound enervated and lacking in spirit. Ironically, it's the full-production side that ends up with the better hit count: "Razor Dance", "Bank Vault in Heaven", "Hide It Away", and "The Ghost of You Walks" all carry through somehow the feeling that Thompson can imbue in his songs when he's able. A couple songs on the acoustic side are fine, but overall it has a better feel as background music.

If he does a score for a Disney cartoon, say, an all-broadway-tune version of "On The Road", then we go after him with pitchforks. Until then, let's hope he gets to make the really good album we all know he has in him

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