It’s hard to believe that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Teddy Thompson’s recording career. He’d been singing and playing guitar on mom Linda’s and dad Richard’s recordings since the mid ’90s when he released his self-titled debut (which Lars reviewed here) in 2000. He left London for the U.S. at 18, settling in New York five years later. “At the time I was just taking a long vacation that never ended,” he says. “I wanted to reinvent myself and it was easier to leave it behind and go somewhere new to announce myself as a musician, rather than explain to all the people who’ve known you since you were a kid. And you can actually reinvent yourself in America, step off the plane, say ‘my name is whatever.’ ”
Well, his name is definitely Teddy Thompson, and he has a solid string of solo and duet albums to his credit, has appeared on a number of tributes and compilations (in particular those helmed by the late Hal Wilner including one for Leonard Cohen), and has also produced records for his Mum as well as other emerging musicians, most notably Americana darling Dori Freeman.
With Heartbreaker Please Thompson has, in my opinion, made a near-perfect gem of folk-pop music. With the exception of his country records (2007’s Up Front and Down Low and 2016’s Little Windows with Kelly Jones) it’s my favorite TT record, and objectively probably his best, in terms of songwriting, production, the whole package.
Thompson cut his teeth on the music favored by his parents, and fortunately they had really good taste. Right? So what seems to have stuck for him, in addition to the classic country of Hank Williams, George Jones and that lot, was ’50s rock and roll including the Everly Brothers, ’60s soul, Motown girl groups and the like, and ’80s pop.
Add to that a recent love affair that ended in heartbreak (he’s not saying much about that except he was “dating an actress”) and some time in the studio with a stripped-down band, and he’s emerged with a bunch of mostly upbeat three-minute lovesick pop songs. The core of the ensemble is drawn from across the New York scene: guitarist Al Street, bassist Jeff Hill and drummer Zach Jones. The secret weapon is Eric Finland on piano and keyboards. Add to that on several of the tracks a killer horn section arranged by Alex Spiegelman and played by Spiegelman and Cole Kamen, and it’s a well-rounded package but never too much. Teddy produced the record himself.
It opens with “Why Wait,” its sad, end-of-the-affair lyrics paired with a danceable beat, a soulful groove and that horn section. “Here’s the thing,” Thompson sings in the album’s opening line, “you don’t love me anymore. I can tell you’ve got one foot out the door.” He’s predicting that she’ll still be thinking of him on into the future at random times, like in her car, on the second track “At A Light.” This one’s solid 50s rock and roll, all handclaps and Hammond organ. Then he’s begging her to come back on the third song, the title track, an ’80s revival bit of heartbroken pop complete with tacky drum machine and jangly guitar. (And a little taste of RT’s electric guitar on the instrumental bridge.) And right there in the first three tracks he’s hit three of his main musical touchstones. Add the girl-group pop of “Record Player” and the honky-tonk shuffle crossed with 60s finger-snapping doo-wop of “It’s Not Easy,” and it’s easy to love this album and hard to believe she ever left him.
There’s plenty more, too. Layers of chiming and chunking guitars along with the Hammond on the soulful “What Now,” the pensive folk ballad “Move At Speed” and the New Wave sound of “No Idea,” drums way out front, insistent synthesizer, deep reverb on the vocals and a dreamy guitar solo from guest Al Street.
What else can I say? It’s a great album. Heartbreak seems to suit Teddy Thompson well.
(Thirty Tigers, 2020)