All Richard Thompson fans must have deeply furrowed brows. Here's this guy who puts out amazing album after amazing album and yet remains bizarrely obscure. Not only that, many of his albums fester in out of print bins. To obtain much of Thompson's work, one must rummage through piles of used CDs or order through online used dealers (true, the internet has greatly facilitated this process in the past five years). Capitol Records didn't help much by dumping Thompson around 1999 and almost immediately removing all his titles from their CD printers. Consequently, 1996's double-disc "You? Me? Us" doesn't show up too much anymore on store shelves. It remains one of Thompson's most elusive albums from his Capitol era.
Similar to most of Thompson's Capitol output, "You? Me? Us?" contains much incredible material along with a few head-scratchers. Disc one, "Voltage Enhaced", contains songs fueled by a full band. The other disc, "Nude" mainly features songs with a more folky or acoustic arrangement and feel. Both contain great material. "Razor Dance" rips in with a satire on back talking and negative gossip. In this dance, the winners hold the most effective insults. The lyrics may evoke some of the ads currently circulating for the 2004 election. "She Steers by Lightning" describes a nightmare ride where the driver uses "Milton as a road map". We all know someone that we'd like to sing "Put it There Pal" to. It spits poison sarcasm from the point of view of the used. The hilarious "Business on You" threatens an object of desire with magic mind-controlling love spells. Listen for the scream before the solo. Very funny. "Bank Vault in Heaven" lumbers in with one of Thompson's weightiest beats. It almost sounds grunge. Disc one's closer, "The Ghost of You Walks" is one of Thompson's best songs. Sometimes relationships just don't work out even when both parties want them to. They tried their hardest but to no avail. This song reflects on the feeling of being in that position. The mood fits better with the "Nude" disc, and following "Bank Vault in Heaven" it's almost an anomalous surprise.
Disc two has more sparse arrangements and feels lonely and beautiful. "Baby Don't Know What To Do With Herself" assimilates the listener into the much more melancholy environment of "Nude". A sliding bass and an acoustic guitar provide the only accompaniment to Thompson's voice at first. Later on hurdy gurdys, violins, and mandolins arrive, but the arragements remain minimalistic. "She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair" wails longingly about lost love. "Train Don't Leave" is a bouncy ditty about potential lost love. Thompson couldn't miss a double disc set without a song about death or a killer. "Sam Jones" is classic Thompson. Lyrically and musically, it sounds like a song right out of past centuries. "Sam Jones, deliver them bones".
So why two discs? Who knows? The connection between the two discs seems obscure and a little contrived. And why include two versions of "Razor Dance" and "Hide It Away"? Both versions are great, but the album didn't need both versions to be a great album. In fact, including both versions arguably bogs down the pace. One version of "Razor Dance" would have whet any listener's appetite. Maybe Capitol tried to capitalize on the "unplugged" craze of the time?
In the end, "You? Me? Us?" contains enough great material to satisfy any Thompson fan. Those who have never heard Thompson before may be overwhelmed. Point them to "Rumor and Sigh". Converts will find their way to this album soon enough. That is, if someone brings it back into print.