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Teddy Thompson: A Piece of What You Need

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jan 01, 2008
Category: Rock

Teddy’s in love.

Or, knowing how sly Teddy Thompson can be, I should say: At the very least, his persona is.

Either way, this is very good news.

“Happy lies ahead,” he predicted in the spring of 2007.

And then he hedged: “But you never know — it could turn nasty.”

If you’re in the Teddy Thompson cult — and it’s ridiculous that a cult is still all there is, because this guy is about as major as it gets — you know that’s classic Teddyspeak. He’s invariably divided. His own worst enemy. Shockingly self-loathing, a genius at sabotaging relationships. And, of course, hopelessly romantic.

He writes pop songs that get crazy-glued to your memory, but he delights in projects like a CD of country songs and Leonard Cohen tributes. For a child of veteran musicians, he’s way too articulate, ironic and self-effacing — way too complicated — for the business he’s in.

Now, in A Piece of What You Need, he confronts that guy with thrilling directness.

As you might expect, the CD starts with the singer stumbling: “It’s getting harder and harder to live with myself/ I’m getting weaker in mental and physical health.” He’s “one night out away from the analyst’s couch.” But disgust is, of course, shot through with irony: “My standards are slipping day by day/ I’ll sleep with anyone who gets in my way.” The punch line: “No one’s coming to save me now.”

But wait! The second song is a total reversal:

What’s this, what’s this
Am I happy or something?
Oh shit, oh shit
Am I happy or something
Is it you, is it me, is it us, is it “we”
Uh oh

The voices in his head say “this will never work” but this time he’s not running scared, this time it’s all good. And while his arms are “not an easy place to be”, he does grasp that it’s hard to get lost there. So far, so great.

But wait yet again! This is Teddy Thompson — by the fourth song, he’s screwed it up. And feeling awful: “I’m minutes away, I’m taking the next train/ Don’t know what I was thinking.”

And so it goes, back and forth, a novel told in monologues. Or, better, a song cycle that, by turns, invokes Johnny Cash (“Maybe I’ll learn to walk the line”), big band music, the powerhouse anthems of a Springsteen and much, much more. He can rock, he can boogie, he can steal your woman with a broken-hearted ballad — musically, the CD burns hot and shiny.

And smart. Above all, smart. The kids who like simple and stupid are gonna wonder why Mom and Dad are listening to this English guy. Their loss. “A Piece of What You Need” is music for grown-ups who can still tap their toes, raise a fist, confront demons, hate phonies and come back for more. Very simply, it’s a small masterpiece.

Who said happiness kills creativity?

To buy “A Piece of What You Need” from, click here.

To read about “Upfront and Down Low” on, click here.

To read about “Separate Ways” on, click here.

To visit Teddy Thompson’s web site, click here.