I have a confession to make: I've had a hard time getting into Ted Leo. When I hear a song like “The High Party” or “Me and Mia” on its own, I pound my fist against the wheel (or other near object), play air guitar and shout along--and it feels perfect in every way. But string a bunch of his songs together and I tend to drift. Not that each individual song has anything wrong with it--more that the man and his band are too consistent.
Since Leo got that annoying lo-fi/sampling shit Tej Leo (?), Rx/Pharmacists out of his system, we've seen 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance and especially 2003’s Hearts of Oak define his sound and he’s been riding that wave ever since. Each album has its tangents and flairs, but basically he’s been rocking the same sound for over seven years. Granted, that sound is pretty satisfying and belongs in a long line of great UK-inspired (and UK, for that matter) rock, but still. With all the backers ‘round the Org and overall punk rock world, I figured something was wrong with me. My homework assignment was clear: Get into Ted Leo.
While Ted Leo is notorious for dragging labels down with him (I kid!), like he’s a lovable shelter puppy on the posters all around my town, I believe he has found a "forever home" with Matador. God bless ‘em for taking him in. As a whole, The Brutalist Bricks is a much more manageable album than the over-stuffed Living with the Living. And with Ted Leo talking about hardcore influencing this album, I was worried we’d get a bunch of “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb”-type tracks, a song which I found, frankly, a bit obnoxious. Luckily, this is not the case. The "hardest’ track"on here would have to be “Where Was My Brain,” but keep in mind when Leo says "hardcore" he means like early '80s hardcore, the stuff he likely grew up on (Bad Brains, perhaps? Descendents?) along with the mod stuff. It’s catchy enough too, so it works. Speedy track “The Stick” sustains a single chugging note for most of its verse and remind me quite a bit of “Ace of Spades” for some reason. “Mourning in America” is pretty intense too, full of lightning-quick snare fills, breakdowns with some bass synth courtesy of James Canty, and a cool-off middle section.
Even with all I've said, it’s a pretty typical Ted Leo cut, “Bottled in Cork,” that ends up as my favorite track here. After a louder intro, it cuts quick and goes to an acoustic-fueled bounce; later, Leo harmonizes himself nicely. “Even Heroes Have to Die” is another acoustic rocker and probably has the best chorus here, finishing with Elvis Costello-type "whoa-oh"s. “One Polaroid a Day” has Leo singing in a lower range than we’re used to hearing, but it totally works over this solid groove, and the chorus music is total Franz Ferdinand-esque dance rock. “The Mighty Sparrow” is a typical Jam/Squeeze/Leo jam, but once again, would probably fall into the category of "awesome alone, disappears within an album." As the opener, it works just fine. Closer “Last Days” finds the Pharmacists in a rather Who-like state, interrupted by some harsher, more pounding moments. Check out that “Won’t Get Fooled Again” ending to the album!
Like an M. Night Shyamalan film, there are, predictably, a couple twists here. The oddest of the bunch would be “Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop,” an atypical acoustic number with an atypical open tuning, crickets/background fuzz, and an odd vocal melody including some falsetto. Not crazy about it, but can’t say he didn't try.
I like Ted Leo. Really. Live, he is totally the bomb. Now that I’ve given him a fair shake, I feel I can say I am truly a fan. I still think he needs to step out of his comfort zone for more than three minutes before stepping back. Take that risk, man. For now, you all go and enjoy The Brutalist Bricks. It may be his best set of Ted Leo-esque tunes yet.