Saturday, March 20

In These Tough Times, You Can Count On Ted Leo, The Cal Ripkin of Rock Music

Artist: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Album: The Brutalist Bricks

If Ted Leo ran for office, he would get every rocker vote in America. Not because his politics are sound, but because he is one trustworthy motherfucker.

Few bands can boast his kind of consistency, few men are capable of his level of continued quality. While his body of work ranges from the transcendent (Hearts of Oak) to the occasionally overblown (Living With The Living), his records can always be counted on for anywhere from three to five immediate hits, with a handful of slow-growers tossed in.

The Brutalist Bricks continues this Dennis Kucinich-like streak of quality tunes. Musically, it is standard Leo: the love child of Joe Strummer and Phil Lynott. The record contains less guitar solos than usual, but the ones employed are done so with maximum proficiency and potency. There are also a few more punk tunes than Leo usually turns out, with roughly three of the albums 12 tracks playing out at straight-up punk. The lyrics are political in nature, and while nothing hit hits as strongly or as smartly as, say, “Walking to Do” or “Ballad of the Sin Eaters,” the lyrics aren't a deal breaker.

Honestly, one doesn't come to Leo for political analysis or life-changing prose. One comes to Leo for some a-rock music, and the middle section of Bricks delivers in spades. The album opens with “The Mighty Sparrow,” an above-average rock song saved by some excellent guitar riffing. A few songs later “Even Heroes Have To Die” hits: a slow-burning pop number that marks the album hitting its stride. From there, we get the blistering, unhinged “The Stick,” the lyrically confusing album highlight “Bottled in Cork,” the simple, urgent thump of “Woke Up Near Chelsea” and the groovy, low-voiced smoothness of “One Polaroid a Day.” Each of these songs rank among Leo's best since Hearts of Oak, and would have made for a boss EP.

The remaining songs can't really hold up in comparison. I mean, sure, “Gimmie The Wire” is a kick ass throwback to Leo's Tyranny of Distance days and “Where Was My Brain” is a fun enough punk anthem, but the last few songs tend to drag, making the album seem longer than its 40 minute run time. Besides, with the exception of “Wire,” Leo has spent all his best guitar riffs (including a painfully, generously brief little bit of ripping on “Bottled in Cork.”).

There are some complaints to be made about The Brutalist Bricks: it feels less like a complete statement and more like a bunch of songs Leo had lying around and decided to put into an album. Then again, shit like that only matters to the obsessives like me. What's more important is that Bricks keeps up Leo's quality train with enough good songs and good ideas to keep people interested until the next set of anthems comes out.

I don't know about you guys, but if this Obama thing doesn't pan out, I'm voting Leo in 2012. At least that is a name I can trust.

Key Tracks: Bottled in Cork, Gimmie The Wire, Even Heroes Have To Die

Buy, Steal, Skip:
Buy it

Dig the guitar solo! So good!

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