Artist: Ted Leo and The Pharmacists
Album: Living With The Living
Comments: Indie rockers are a pretentious bunch, what with their beards and their sweaters and their high-falluting attitudes. They like to sit in their ivory towers and throw out musical influences, not as a marker to define their sound, but as some sort of resume of how awesome their taste in music is. These scoundrels are so busy showing how complex their tastes are that they’ve forgotten that they are even in rock bands. This is why Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are such a breath of fresh air in the indie rock scene; they know how, and are not afraid to rock.
I’ve never met Ted Leo, but I am under the impression that he is the least pretentious person in a very, very pretentious music scene. His music, which is punctuated by his Thin Lizzy meets Cheap Trick guitar styling and his high falsetto voice, has always had a very inviting feel to it; I am confident that if Leo were to give up on his punk rock, independent ethic and sign himself to a major label, he’d be a smash. He’s the kind of guy who you could get a beer with and talk about the newest Jet album, or how much you secretly love the new Fergie song. On his fifth studio album, Living With The Living, Leo and Co. maintain their everyman rock swagger and gain a little political perspective, for better or for worse.
While it is by no means a downer of a record, there are a few less songs to inspire beer glasses in the air. Some tracks on this record carry with them a little less tongue-in-cheek and a little more realization, inspired by the tumultuous times in which we live. The best examples of this are the two most political songs on the record; the unfortunate “Bomb, Repeat” and the most excellent “The Lost Brigade”. “Bomb, Repeat” is a real stinker of a song; Ted tries a little too hard to let us know that he is against war, and as a result, we get some 5th grade protest lyrics on top of what can best be described as a System of a Down B-side music backing. “The Lost Brigade” fairs better because of the restraint shown by Leo; he hints, but never gives away his feelings. The song is a seven and a half minute long blast of guitar and choral call and response lyrics. It’s good stuff.
Where Ted and his pals really succeed on this record is when they stay in their wheelhouse, which is stadium sized rock guitar and solid, pounding pop rhythm. The album kicks off with “Sons of Cain”, “Army Bound”, and “Who Do You Love”, which are all as strong as any song in the Ted Leo Catalogue. “Sons of Cain” is textbook Leo, down to the breakdown in the bridge and the Leo screams at the end of the song. “Army Bound” is more politically minded music, but the message is dwarfed by the Clash-esque guitar riffing and bass drum thump. “Who Do You Love” is the standout of the three; Ted Leo is doing his best Bruce Springsteen impression, giving the people a pop song to help them “work for the cities and live for the beach”. Any one of these songs could be stuck in your head at the drop of a hat.
One of Leo’s biggest complaints is that his songs suffer from too much similarity; the standouts stand out, but the rest all runs together. It’s a valid complaint as tracks do tend to run together at times. “Colleen” is nothing special, which is a shame because of the seriously bitchin’ solo in the middle of the song, and tracks like “La Costa Brava” and “The Unwanted Things” are good, but nothing special. But then, out of nowhere, comes the Celtic groove “Bottle of Buckie”. With its groovy fife soloing, mid 90s rock riff, and green isle inspired lyrics, it is a little out of place on the album, but a welcome break in pace.
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are many things. Not only are they the friendliest indie rockers around, and one of the only bands around today that are not afraid to rock the hell out (If Ted Leo ever went on tour with the Hold Steady, the world would probably end on account of the massive riffs throwing our earth out of its orbit), but they consistently put out good rock music. Whether you want to get drunk with some friends, or sit and contemplate your life, Living With The Living has got what you need.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Sons of Cain, Who Do You Love, Bottle of Buckie, The Lost Brigade
Worth The Money: Yes