After the too-pat Mirror Blue and you? me? us?, Richard Thompson has again found a proper context for his world-weary agitation. Industry, a collaboration with British acoustic bassist Danny Thompson (no relation), matches Richard’s pained and irate songs about the collapse of trade in England with Danny’s generally mournful, occasionally lighter-hearted instrumentals. Some of the singer/songwriter’s most mordant work since Hand of Kindness is on display here; “Sweetheart of the Barricade” balances another of his tragic-woman narratives with admiration for the way his love does her duty to the union. “Big Chimney” turns a chant of “pig iron, pig iron” into a near-anthemic chorus
that seems destined for
Johnny Cash’s next
country/rock/folk fusion (its chances aren’t hurt by that catch phrase’s echo of “The Rock Island Line,” the skiffle favorite that Cash claimed for his first Sun album four decades ago). “Lotteryland” interrogates the entire Brit class system in under three minuteswell, except for the royal family, but even that’s implied. The only thing on Industry that seems a bit too noble is the ballad “Drifting Through the Days,” which waters down the pained memories of a sacked worker with the sentimentality that has damaged Richard Thompson’s work of late. Otherwise, the intelligence of brain, heart, and musicality that rings through Industry is a firm thing, and proves that with the right subject matter, Richard can still conjure some good songs that threaten to shade into greatness. Next time, maybe a tune or two about corporate downsizing? Now there’s a challenge our man is fit to meet.