Sweet Warrior marks Richard Thompson’s return to a full band sound after a couple of sparse and largely acoustic records. It is also one of the most diverse albums that he’s ever done, even dipping (fairly successfully) into reggae with “Francesca”. At fourteen songs and nearly 70 minutes in length, it’s not the easiest record to assimilate quickly. Even so, it’s soon apparent that it’s one of his most consistent sets for a long time. At 58 years old, he’s lost nothing when it comes to his guitar playing, and his singing has probably never been better.
Key tracks on the album include “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me”, the barbed commentary of a soldier stationed in Iraq who bemoans that “nobody loves me here“, but with delicious sarcasm exclaims “It’s someone else’s mess that I didn’t choose / At least we’re winning on the Fox Evening News“. It’s one of the best songs yet inspired by that idiotic Anglo-American imperialist adventure. The epic “Guns Are The Tongues” is the tale of a naive young lad who falls in with revolutionaries and ends up paying the ultimate price whilst driving a car full of explosives at a military checkpoint. It’s one of the strongest tunes that Thompson has recorded for years, with a rousing chorus, and it seems destined to become a live favourite. The closing “Sunset Song” is a classic Thompson weepie, as good as any.
Sweet Warrior is an eclectic record, with a dark undercurrent. There are still a fair number of stomping good time songs, but there is a vein of disappointment running through the record – disappointment in the moral weakness exhibited by those in power, and the cruelty that comes too easily to people. Like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson seems to have been galvanised as he reaches late middle age. There is no reason why age should wither inspiration – many of Vaughan Williams’ greatest works were written when he was well into his seventies and Stockhausen is as relevant now as ever. Thompson has, if anything, become more prolific over the last five or six years whilst consistently delivering the goods. Sweet Warrior is unquestionably one of the best albums he’s ever made.