While the legacy of “Brokeback Mountain” likely includes a couple of Oscars, wishing-I-knew-how-to-quit-you, a Heath-Michelle romance and appalling parodies like “Bareback Mountain,” it would be foolish to ignore the accomplishment of the film’s astoundingly emotive soundtrack.
Making a notable appearance on that album was British standout singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson, who surprised many with his two mellifluous contributions. Although Thompson, up until now, has stayed under the radar of U.S. listeners, he has enjoyed considerable across-the-pond applause since his self-titled debut in 2000. His newest and second release, “Separate Ways,” consists of 13 folk-rock tracks that are sure to bring even greater public approval.
Thompson is the fortunate progeny of talented British songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson and the singer Linda Thompson; a winner in the gene lottery, he has nevertheless worked hard to steadily improve his vocal stylings. His efforts pay off delightfully on “Separate” — many of the album’s songs are slow-paced and soft, drawing attention to the meaningful words and to the lilt of Thompson’s classic crooning. While the album isn’t exactly cheerful, this beautiful combination creates an ambience that can just as easily serve as background music while studying or be listened to purely for vocal excellence.
Thompson opens with “Shine So Bright,” a hopeful song of renewal (“I want to shine so bright it hurts”). This is followed by “I Should Get Up,” implying a struggle of self-motivation: “I’m so wrapped up in myself/ I’ve got no time for anyone else/ I should get up/ I should get out/ I’m sure there’s something I can’t do without.” While some of the lyrics evoke the melancholy image of a downtrodden young man, there is an upbeat catchiness to the song that successfully elevates the track’s tone.
The album’s title song is a bitter requiem to a past relationship and comes across as painfully honest and autobiographically revealing: “I don’t care about you/ you don’t care about me,” spits Thompson. Yet the luminous string instrumentals and Thompson’s intonation lend a haunting resonance to the otherwise simplistic lyrics of this song.
One track sure to be enjoyed by old fans and new ones alike is “Altered State.” The lyrics tell of a feigned happiness, something to which every angst-ridden hipster can relate. “I like to live in an altered state/ it makes me love all the things I hate/ I like to put on my happy face/ while I cry on the inside.” Here Thompson combines a strong drum line with the ironically light-hearted guitar melody, impeccably infusing the track with the complexity it deserves.
On another album hallmark, “No Way To Be,” the mighty refrain rolls through a single steady drumbeat that carries the song to memorable expanses. Melancholy chords emphasize the mood, but the majority of the song is fueled by Teddy’s guitar skills and a melodious electric piano in the background.
In a recent interview, Thompson said, “I learned pretty early that to be really popular and really good is very rare, and that was a valuable lesson.” And in truth, he has achieved musical proficiency with stunning ease. “Separate” demonstrates his artistry and talent, showcasing his potential as a developing musician. If he continues along this path, it’s certain his popularity will only grow.