Out this week on
Verve Forecast, Bella finds the
songwriter flexing his wings under the watchful eye of veteran producer David
By Steve Pick
Releasing his fifth solo album on the eve of his 35th birthday, Teddy Thompson continues to be overshadowed by his parents, musical
legends Richard and Linda Thompson. He’s inherited from his father a desire to
connect his music to the darker undercurrents of real life, not to mention the
ability to cast an ironic (and frequently self-deprecating) eye on his
subjects. From his mother, he inherited a rich and supple set of vocal chords,
transposed from an alto to a tenor register.
Thompson’s first two records, the self-titled debut in 2000 and 2006’s
long-delayed follow-up Separate Ways,
shared some of the folk influences he learned from mom and dad. His 2007
release, Upfront and Down Low, was a
well-meaning if considerably under-cooked tribute to honky tonk country. But
then, with 2008’s A Piece of What You
Need, Thompson came into his own as a pop songwriter, running in footsteps
best trod by Crowded House. Bella is
more of the same, with an added musical twist provided by the orchestrations of
producer David Kahne.
Kahne reveals a talent he’d not found much use for working over the
last 25 years with the likes of the Bangles, Paul McCartney, the Strokes, or
Sublime. He can write string arrangements from the point of view of a pop music
fan, and Thompson wanted strings to slot into his guitar, keyboards, bass, and
drums line-up. The strings are so
well-integrated into the arrangements of Thompson’s songs that one hopes he can
afford at least a handful of players to come out on tour with him.
The song “Over and Over” makes use of strings in such a fashion as to
make the rock band (guitar, keys, bass, and drums) seem like the afterthought.
Thompson crafted a simple and urgent melodic indictment of his own
insecurities: “I shit on myself so that nobody else can” pretty much sets the
tone here. Kahne provides cushions of
tight viola wrapped around Thompson’s acoustic guitar, and then builds a
complexly thrilling orchestral arrangement around the full band as Thompson’s
rich tenor lets the tune soar. Questioning one’s right to be loved never
sounded so beautiful.
“Looking For a Girl” and “The One I Can’t Have” each wring humor from
the eternal search for a potential lover, but “Take Me Back Again” is a
heartfelt plea for forgiveness and
“Gotta Have Somebody” opens up the meaning of his desire for something beyond just
a sex partner. In fact, when the soberly
upbeat guitar solo, which sounds like Richard Thompson here, takes over at the
end, it sounds as though Teddy Thompson has no intention of shooting his loving
potential in the foot again.
Thompson is not afraid to go for big hooks – “Looking For a Girl,”
which opens the album, is an irresistibly driving pop number with humor way
over the top. His perfect fantasy involves “Someone who turns my bread into
buttered toast.” He also can write delicately and truthfully of the roles one
never leaves inside of a family in the beautiful and compelling “Home,” a song
made stronger with some deft string section counterpoint, and a neat twist at
the end on the changing meaning of the title.
He’s not exactly on the cutting edge of contemporary indie rock, but
Thompson is coming into his own as a legacy act of intelligent, biting pop
music. Bella is beautiful and
enticing, and that’s more than enough to make up for its lack of trendiness.