Most of us have been there. The relationship that once promised to be ‘the one’ is over. It’s sad, but we knew for a while that the affair was coming to an end. It’s too early to find someone else. We just need to chill, look back, and look ahead while existing in the in-between. That’s where Teddy Thompson lives on his latest release, Heartbreaker Please. The ten songs on the album share this melancholy vibe. They are more resigned than sad. They share an upbeat sensibility because there’s an acknowledgment that the worst is over. There’s something bittersweetly charming about the whole situation.
The album begins with a fanfare of horns as Thompson asks, “Why Wait”, as in “Why wait for you to break my heart?” He initiates the breakup he sees as inevitable even as he pleads for his lover to stay. This mix of feelings reveals the narrator’s confusion. Thompson’s facility at expressing more than one emotive state at a time demonstrates his lyrical talents. He uses simple language to communicate complex thoughts and feelings through wordplay and intonations.
Consider the opening couplet of the title track: “Here’s the piece of my heart / That you left at the part / Only bit that remains / You can break it again.” Thompson starts to sing in a quiet voice over a simple beat. The first line’s meaning is unclear; is he offering love—a piece of his heart? The other meaning of the homonym “piece” with “peace” suggests Thompson seeks comfort. He pauses before continuing, stringing out the reference (i.e., meaning when they separated and suggestively asking “part” of what). He then reaches back and explains that a “piece” is all he has; (re: the “only bit”, whose vampirish connotation seems intentional) of the love he once felt. The music begins to swell as he painfully conveys his bitterness and then stoically continues that he’s willing to suffer more; hence, “again”. Thompson paints the scenario in a mere 21 words. The rest of the song “Heartbreaker Please” extracts the push/pull of feelings its ambiguous moniker suggests (he wants the affair to end, he wants the relationship to continue, he doesn’t know what he wants).
Thompson openly admits his debt to 1950s rock and roll acts such as the Everly Brothers on his sound, and songs such as “It’s Not Easy” and “At a Light” would fit right in on a playlist with tracks like “Bye Bye Love” and “Kathy’s Clown”. They share a thematic similarity: the narrator bemoans the ending of a romantic liaison but knows it’s not the end of the world. There is a distinct musical resemblance to the oldies as well. That is true of the album as a whole whose title evokes such songs as “Heartbreaker”, “Lover Please”, and others. Thompson addresses the fact that he prefers old radio hits to new ones on “Record Player” and this is exemplified by the music here.
Thompson produced the record, as well as singing and playing lead guitar and writing all the songs. He worked with a small combo of people, mostly Jeff Hill on bass, Zach Jones on percussion, Al Street on electric guitar, and Eric Finland on keyboards. Thompson’s father Richard contributed to the mix with electric guitar on the title song. Like much of Richard’s work, the son’s compositions frequently have a jaunty ambiance. That is probably not a hereditary trait as much as part of the human condition these days: smiling through the apocalypses (both personal and collective ones).
Heartbreaker Please raises one’s spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He sings about feeling “Brand New”, and while his enthusiasm is suspect, there is a sense of relief present. Thompson’s not wallowing; he’s re-joining the world and out looking for love.