In the last two weeks, two bands from my native New Jersey dropped an album. I'm going to need a bit more time to digest Titus Andronicus' latest, The Monitor, so for now, I have decided to dive back into the sounds of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
I'll admit that it has been a while since I've listen to Mr. Leo and his band; I used to listen to Hearts of Oak and Shake the Sheets quite a bit, but I felt that his songs didn't have staying power in my memory. Still, I wanted to give it another shot with their latest, The Brutalist Bricks.
The opener, "The Mighty Sparrow," sounds a bit super-heroic and has all the rock optimism and distinct vocal qualities that I remembered him for. The latter doesn't stay for long however; most of the songs in this album lack a certain intensity in Leo's voice, which I found to be one of his greatest qualities. For each really good vocal from him (his voice plus the harmonizing bits of “Ativan Eyes” come to mind) you have a really lackluster “oh-ohs” in “Even Heroes Need to Die”, which even with that flaw aside is a pretty forgettable song. When he does try to put his voice in a higher register on “Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop,” it just doesn't click and takes away from a pretty ambitious song. He does deliver eventually, on “Woke Up Near Chelsea” when a loud Ted Leo sings, “We are born of despair.”
The band itself is as strong as ever. The guitar fuzz and serious drumming on "Mourning in America" are a testament to that. Their punk styled riffs on “The Stick” are on point, and "Gimme the Wire" is filled with the pop-punk anthem power that he is good for.
Ted Leo is at his best on this album when he writes something less of a pop-punk anthem and plays a bit outside his normal milieu.“Bottled In Cork” is easily one of the best songs on the album; It's a laid back song which starts off with his tried and true political lyrics but it quickly goes into a more acoustic, carefree affair, ending with the line “tell the bartender I think I'm falling in love”. The subdued Leo crooning under the guitars on "One Polaroid A Day" is also a plus. If he doesn't have the same capacity as he did on songs like “Me and Mia” and "Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone", it is nice to know he can make these type of songs instead.