One thing that can be said about Shake the Sheets, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ third full-length for Lookout! Records, is that it is their simplest album to date.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
While I still consider 2001’s Tyranny Of Distance to be Ted’s masterpiece, trying to recreate that would be rather pointless. Last year’s Hearts Of Oak was also a great, albeit flawed album. It would occasionally lose its momentum with some slower songs and a few tracks were just a minute or two too long. Still, there was no doubt that he was one of the best songwriters out there today. This is why I am so pleased that Shake The Sheets is simply 40 minutes of Ted Leo playing some of the best songs he has written to date. Nothing fancy, just eleven songs, each with hooks that keep getting better and better, and only one, “Little Dawn,” is over five minutes (and trust me, you wouldn’t mind if it was ten). One thing is for certain, these songs will be stuck in your head for weeks.
From the start of “Me And Mia,” the excellent production job of Chris Shaw becomes very clear. It’s never too glossy, but still a huge step forward in sound over the last two albums. The Pharmacists, now down to just bass and drums (David Lerner and Chris Wilson respectively), have also never sounded better providing an incredibly solid rhythm section to the amazing guitar work that we’ve come to expect. If you’ve listened to Ted Leo before, his eclectic mix of 70s punk, soul, reggae, classic rock, etc. should come as no surprise although now it sounds more urgent and focused than before. Vocally, he’s turned down the falsetto a bit, but it doesn’t really take away from his trademark style. Lyrically, it is also his typical combo of political and personal topics; but this time the subjects seem to be more specific and you probably won’t need a dictionary to decipher what he’s saying. This is not to say the lyrics have been dumbed down, in fact they are stronger and more relevant then ever tackling topics such as health care (“Heart Problems”) and the current administration overall.
I would even recommend this to those who couldn’t get into Ted Leo before, you may be surprised. For those who haven’t heard him before, this must be your first time coming to this site, and this probably wouldn’t be a bad place to start as it’s his most accessible work yet. It’s certainly not as ambitious as Tyranny Of Distance, but if I want to hear that, I’ll listen to it. I could go on about how good each individual track is, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that you go buy this now as it’s one of the best 2004 has to offer. Yes, Ted Leo is still the motherfucking man, and the one the music world needs now more than ever.