Returning to “Walking on a Wire” for a new solo album called Acoustic Classics, Richard Thompson plumbs different emotions, beginning with a serrated, at times almost vicious approach.
“Walking on a Wire” was, of course, originally presented as a shattering duet with soon-to-be ex-wife Linda Thompson on 1982’s heartbroken Shut Out the Lights — with the deeply underrated Linda taking the verses. She sings with an almost unbearable, slow-death sadness — one that, incredibly, gets sadder still as the song progresses. Richard, meanwhile, added a mournful chorus accompaniment, and a searching turn on the guitar that gets right to the edge of catharsis before the lyric returns.
Richard, in essence, picks up where that early-1980s solo left off with this new take. Where Linda sang lines like “this grindstone’s wearing me” with a plaintive acceptance, Richard takes you inside its groaning weight. He sings “where’s the sense, when the all the pain is on my side of the fence?” through clinched teeth.
Then, Richard Thompson does another unexpected thing. He returns to that solo, and he feints left — offering something as delicately ruminative as Linda had once been, opening the door for a conclusion that’s sung with a fresh grief. Whatever anger had been there before has dissolved into something closer to the hurt that they both started with in the first place.