Extensive, and slightly alternative, look into the work of man who passed his voice to the masses.
Bespectacled but spectacular, Chris Thompson‘s image may not be one of a star singer, yet his vocals possess a mighty magnetism. Able to handle any style there is, from acoustic ballads to heavy metal to opera – the New Zealander duetted with Sarah Brightman, – Chris’ solo career, just like Phantom’s oeuvre, seems largely unseen. So it’s hardly a happenstance that Thompson chose the high-tension, demons-banishing “Dark Side” off 2014’s "Toys & Dishes" to open this expansive observation of his work which charts four decades of the artist’s life while providing a different angle for some of its turns.
One of these is the vigorous, if unplugged, with Thompson’s namesake Spedding reprising his original guitar duties, new version of “Thunder Child” from the “War Of The Worlds” musical where Chris played The Voice of Humanity, and this title can easily be applied to the singer’s overall stance. Delivering every note from the bottom of his heart, yet sometimes feeling the weight of the lyrical world on his shoulders – as “One Man Mission” suggests in its heavy blues sway, – the veteran’s extrovert nature shines through “You’re The Voice” which he co-wrote and gives an edge to here. All this perfectly fits with the material Thompson laid down with Manfred Mann, from "The Roaring Silence" on, although, granted no access to old recordings, Chris runs for live renditions now and, thus, lends the bubbly likes of “Runner” and “Don’t Kill It Carol” a much looser perspective, despite their different moods.
But he acutely contrasts the seriousness of big ones by his former collective, such as the streamlined “Blinded By The Light” or tremulous “Questions,” with a cynical, albeit humorous, jab at showbiz in the infectious “Million Dollar Wonder Hit,” and doesn’t leave out the intimacy of NIGHT, another group he fronted, in the punchy pop of “Hot Summer Night,” also caught on-stage. Still, it’s more obscure pieces – “Millie Christine” that peddles happiness, the boogie of “Whole Lot To Give” – that are highlights in the nocturnal context, while “Beat Of Love” bares the bouncing, dancing aspect of Chris’ approach. And whereas “A Shift In The Wind,” featuring Brian May’s six-string harmony, shows Thompson at his most gentle and at the same time anthemic, “The Fire” finds the singer sharing the spiritual flight with Mavis Staples, yet pipes like his don’t need an opulent arrangement, and “Redemption Song” stresses the performer’s talent at bringing the best out of the simplest strum.
Of course, powerful belting serves “The Mighty Quinn” nicely, but the rapping on the folk-tinctured “Land Of The Long White Cloud” signifies the veteran’s embrace of modern idiom and, therefore, his relevance – as does the buzz of “What World” with its riffs and the groovy worry about the current ways. But Chris Thompson is a fantastic sculptor of hope, and this 36-track collection’s finale comes with the “We Are The Strong” hymn which chases away the deceptive darkness of his songs. So it’s not a jukebox, as there’s no random choices; rather, it’s a portrait of the artist in his eternal prime.