Monday, March 22, 2010

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - 'The Brutalist Bricks'

In these modern times, the world needs Ted Leo. Both on good days (Congress gave U.S. citizens health care forever!) and bad (My girlfriend’s neighbor lost her dog yesterday!). On The Brutalist Bricks, Leo and his backing band The Pharmacists blend the personal and political yet again on this, their sixth solo album of Celtic punk ‘n’ power pop songs. My Catholic guilt is smacking me something fierce for ever doubting he didn’t have another album in him.

While Leo’s sound has remained consisted throughout his career – Joe Strummer, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, and Billy Bragg in a musical orgy – there are slight alterations that differentiate his albums. Brutalist Bricks is more concise than the double album-length Living With the Living and less indebted to Thin Lizzy’s guitars than The Tyranny of Distance… which I guess puts it in league with the similarly stripped down punk fervor of Shake the Sheets.

In some ways, the record is unfocused. The songs don’t always segue gracefully. The last two or three tracks could have been excised in favor of a tighter album. The intro to “Bottled Up in Cork” has little to do with the rest of the song, either lyrically or musically. And yeah, Leo has a habit of making pub-ready rock without anthemic choruses – dude loves words.

But these problems are slight. Bricks is yet another stellar record from Leo. Remember when I knocked “Bottled Up in Cork” earlier? It’s also my favorite song on the album. Tons of reviews have quoted the song’s opening line – “There was a resolution pending on the United Nations floor / In reference to the question, ‘What’s a peace keeping force for?’” – but none I’ve read so far bothered to mention that the rest of the song is about traveling through Europe and getting in touch with family. I’m pretty sure Leo is still haunted by the ghost of the Bush years (“Your tribuneral mockeries of justice still dog my steps”), and I relate to that sentiment quite a bit. I also enjoy the guitar solo.

The first 10 tracks of the album are also great. “The Mighty Sparrow” opens the album with Leo’s trademark nervous energy, complemented by drummer Chris Wilson’s appropriately frenetic beats. “Mourning in America” ups the ante with a wall of guitar noise mixed with quietly menacing verses. “Ativan Eyes” and “Even Heroes Have to Die” chase “Mourning” with a poppier chorus. Contrastingly, there are some outright punk jams like “The Stick,” “Woke Up Near Chelsea,” and “Where Was My Brain?”.

The Brutalist Bricks put a spring in my step before Pennsylvania thawed out last week. Now that the weather is clearing up (today’s rain clouds notwithstanding), it’s a logical choice for feel-good jams 24/7. As the years pass, it’s good to know there are rockers like Leo out there, continuously tossing out quality tunes for the downtrodden.


Adam McGrath said...

I keep meaning to pick up this album. For me, I always forget how much I love a good Ted Leo song until it comes on a shuffle.

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