Review: Teddy Thompson – Bella (Verve Forecast)
It’s clear from the opening riffs of Teddy Thompson’s new album Bella that he is a man who knows what he wants. And if there were any hesitation after the driving rhythm of the first track “Looking For A Girl”, it vanishes when he announces, “I been looking for a girl who drinks and smokes/who takes a lot of drugs but can take a joke.”
This audacity is both the lyrical and musical theme of Bella, Thompson’s fifth release, available Feb. 8th. Written following his breakup with an Italian woman called Bella, Thompson and producer David Kahne (Regina Spektor, Paul McCartney) set out to craft a record that lived up to the meaning of her name—beautiful.
That they succeed is due in no small part to Thompson’s plaintive voice, a piercing tenor that is perhaps the most ethereal natural instrument in pop music since Roy Orbison. It is no coincidence that many of the arrangements are rooted in the Orbison sound. Lush strings and a haunting guitar build the tension on “Take Care of Yourself,” soaring and strumming until Thompson offers a powerful climax in a pristine falsetto.
It would do listeners good to pause at this point in the album and contemplate why Thompson isn’t more widely known. He is the total package, an incisive songwriter whose melodies and hooks remain in your ear long after the music fades. The fact that he is easy on the eyes doesn’t exactly hurt either. Had he been on the scene just two generations ago, Thompson would have likely boasted platinum record sales. But this is a time in which mainstream music demands homogeneity, and as glossy and polished as Bella is, its songs are simply too sharp and genre-blurring to appeal to a mass audience.
Thompson has never been shy about paying homage to his diverse musical roots, a tradition he continues to great effect with Bella. The album is a heady brew of classic pop and country and folk; a calypso-flavored number, “Tell Me What You Want,” is even added for good measure as a duet with the vibrant Jenni Muldaur. But each song returns again and again to those gorgeous strings, arranged by Kahne, which are the heart and soul of Bella.
So while mainstream success may continue to elude him, Teddy Thompson can rest assured that Bella more than lives up to its name.