'Heartbreaker Please' Review: Teddy Thompson's folk-pop album is an ode to love's triumph over loss and misery
Triumphant yet melancholic, and infused with winning heart, soul, and optimism, Thompson's lovely voice will leave you smiling long after the album concludes
"What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?" muses Rob from Nick Hornby's incredible book, ‘High Fidelity’. The British singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson may inadvertently have answered those questions with ‘Heartbreaker Please’, his latest time-capsule of music inspired by tales of love and loss, out on May 29. As Thompson revealed about his sixth solo outing, "I’m usually the one who does the heartbreaking! A defense mechanism of course, but all of a sudden I was the one on the back foot."
After five previous solo albums and numerous projects (Thompson has even released a record with his musical family) that have chronicled his intrepid musical journey, Thompson’s latest offering contains his personal take on love, through and beyond heartbreak. With ten, finely crafted songs, ‘Heartbreaker Please’ takes you on a musical journey back through time, right from the '50s through to present-day musical stylings. "Those songs are from a time when the song itself was important and would live on. If it was great, people would cover it. So I still think that way, write a great song first! I try to be succinct and witty, but also cut to the heart in a matter of two or three minutes," explained Thompson. With the exception of the contemplative ‘No Idea,’ rarely do any of these tracks cross the four-minute mark, making it ideal for radio play.
The album kicks off and we're all aboard the soul train as Thompson delivers a rousing anti-heartbreak number in ‘Why Wait’. A song about dealing with the inevitability of a doomed relationship, Thompson approaches his lover with a knowledge of what is to come and asks simply, "Why wait?" The lyrics are both wise and weary. "There is love in this world to find / And there is love you must leave behind," he bemoans sagely. The soul-drenched horns by Cole Kamen and arranger Alec Spiegelman add subtle, beautiful flourishes of melancholy but it is Thompson’s stirring voice that fills the song with a silver lining of hope.
‘At A Light’ hits hard as Thompson sings about the void that he would have left in the other person's life as they both try to move on. "On a jet or a movie set you’re gonna find / That I’m with you." All done with a fun and boppy Beach Boys/Everly Brothers vibe, this is as much a summer song as it is a post-heartbreak one. Spiegelman and Kamen really brighten up this track once again and make this one easy to fall in love with. With the title track ‘Heartbreaker Please', Thompson weaves through serene Americana stylings. Remorseful and nostalgic, the song shows Thompson longing to return to what he has now lost, a rousing plea to a love he still seems to cherish and yearn for. "Don’t go very far / Hitch me to your star," sings Thompson, accentuated by sparkling synths and a soulful guitar solo reminiscent of a much younger Chris Rea.
Thompson seems to have dealt with things in his personal life with a lot more grace than most of us would muster, as shown on ‘Brand New.’ In this letter to an old love, Thompson writes about the things that have made him whole again since the time they were together, such as his brand-new car and woman. Eric Deutsch on pianos adds to this slow, moving country ballad that sees Thompson as the heartbreaker for a change. But it also highlights the peace that he seems to have found by letting go of things. The elements here might be minimalist but it’s his personal truth that shines through.
'What Now’ is Thompson’s country pop ballad based on the old saying, "You don’t know what you have till it’s gone." Somewhere in that journey to grace, Thompson seems lost in a growingly isolated world and asks very simply -- what now? "See the world is a cold place / Don’t mess with what you can’t replace / And it only matters now if you’re with me." Of all the songs on the album, the melancholia and loneliness Thompson feels is most apparent here. Peppered with soulful piano chords and smooth guitars, 'What Now' is also a great track to slow dance to.
The hymn-like ‘No Idea' is a deep, long spiritual look at oneself in such aching times of loss. Deutsch’s organ-like pianos once again fill this track with a soulful reverence that creates the perfect setting for Thompson’s heartbreak. It takes a lot out of him, as Thompson looks in the face of this mountain of grief, yet triumphantly sings, "So I run and I hide / I got no idea." This isolationist sentiment rings forth again with the words, "We are truly alone / No one cares / No one phones." It is admittedly difficult for us to admit that we need to love ourselves more, but that is truly where finding real love actually begins.
‘Record Player’ is an album standout with its '60s-themed doo-wop style. An ode to the greats that Thompson grew up listening to in his youth, ‘Record Player’ is a song about the great music icons of yesteryear, like Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke, and Hank Williams, just to name a few. Their influences can be heard throughout this song, as the music takes us down a sun-drenched path of glorious nostalgia. Amid this finger-snapping, sundae-eating, carefree bop, Thompson longs for a different class of music as he croons, "Where are the songs that I love? / Where is the music that I care for?"
‘Take Me Away,’ is a saccharine slice of cinematic sadness, as Thompson appeals to Lady Love herself to help him on his journey to grace. "Love take me away / Far away from here / Into the new," he sings, hoping his journey to rediscover love will transport him into the beautiful unknown. Chris Carmichael shines on string arrangements throughout the track, which perfectly cradles Thompson’s words and voice. This is Dave Matthews on a happy pill writing exercise, with a touch of DeVotchKa thrown in for good measure.
"What if WHAM! wrote a country-pop song?" is what Thompson thought to himself before popping into the studio to record ‘It’s Not Easy.’ Thompson sings of the maturity and grace with which he deals with a failing love while making it another fun romp through the vintage years, replete with milkshakes, diners, and leather jackets. Despite its difficult subject matter, 'It's Not Easy' is injected with fun and the sweetest of sadness and this number that could just get you on your feet and jiving if you heard it on the radio.
With ‘Move At Speed,’ the album’s slowest song, Thompson appeals to us that a life lived in haste is not a life well-lived. Sprinkled with delicate piano notes, this rousing yet somber country theme stands as a warning to living a mindless and thoughtless existence. "Fight the feeling to be free / You ain’t going anywhere / When you move at speed / There is no release." Deny it as one might, these may be just the words needed to exercise a bit of course correction in our own lives. It is a beautifully moving number and Thompson tugs on your heartstrings with this one.
While ‘Heartbreaker Please’ may have had its genesis in Thompson’s own misery, these ten tracks stand as varied, yet shining examples of the truth, beauty, and the importance of love. Even while singing about the melancholy of loss or yearning for new love to transport him to wondrous new places, Thompson reassures us that the best way out of misery is through the magic of love. Triumphant yet melancholic, and infused with winning heart, soul, and optimism, Thompson's lovely voice will leave you smiling long after the album concludes.