Review Summary: It's just giving us more of a good thing.
In many ways, new album The Brutalist Bricks
is merely 2007’s Living With The Living
refined and reborn, cleaning up Ted Leo And The Pharmacists’ reggae-punk-indie conglomerate of sorts to a sporty, affable product worthy of your friendship. The band has been doing this type of thing meticulously well for the past ten or so years, peaking early in their career of “intelligent” pop punk creation with the 60s-inspired, sentimental shout outs of The Tyranny of Distance
and the clean-edge follow-up found in Heart of Oaks
that followed shortly two years thereafter. Settling with a set of sonic tools that has already gotten them farther than many, Indiana’s Ted Leo and his group of drug distributors have refused to angle off their blend of thoughtful lyrics and profound power pop, never slipping to the level of mediocrity, while not yet topping their 2001 career peak. This album, like Living With The Living
and Shake The Sheets
that came before it, is simply the band giving us what we have come to expect.
Highlight “Atavan Eyes” is the thesis of Ted Leo And The Pharmacists in recorded form: pop sensibilities – a Cheap Trick-esque melody, more specifically for this track - well-spoken lyrics, and an inoffensive set of musicians that flirt with reggae grooves, punk-like drive, and indie-rock, smart-talk rythms. The voice of front man Ted Leo has a foreign twang to it, perhaps not wholly British but with Scottish undertones that disguise itself in American arrogance. ‘Well even heroes have to die
,’ finds the singer slurring each bar with realism-tinged happiness – odd, yes - only to recollect after a tight solo from guitarist James Canty with, ‘Working away until we miss the passing of the time,
’ for the tie-in to summarize his wasting relationship, as well as to give a nod to the general work-a-holic American society. As this track would indicate, Ted Leo has a tendency to two-way his lyrical subjects; his music, having more of an incentive for listeners to come back and piece together the double connotations, is arguably better for it too.
Ted Leo And The Pharmacists voice their opinion of modern, spiritually chaotic times on one of the most anthemic cuts they have yet to record to studio, “Woke Up Near Chelsea”:’Well, we all got a job to do / We all hate God / But we all got a job to do,
’ calls for unity instead of pointing fingers at divine figures, building behind a steady, one-note piano prodding that later escalates with tension and Ted Leo’s grit to muddied distortion with a James Younge-styled chorus melody. “One Polaroid A Day” follows thereafter with its matter-of-fact, bluesy groove and a reserved, I’m-so-cool vocal delivery from front man Leo. “Where Is My Brains”, however, knocks the flow out of place for a Green Day’s Shenanigans
-esque punk exercise, having us wondering exactly where was the band’s quality songwriting on that one.
Ted Leo And The Pharmacists apologize for the unnecessary deviation found in the ninth track with the very unique cut – at least for Ted Leo and The Pharmacist, that is – “Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop.” The acoustic-based, Bob Seger “Turn The Page”-throwback is really only setting the stage for the Yellowcard-like guitar/fiddle noodling of “Gimme The Wire”, though – yes, I said Yellowcard; suffice it to say, coupled with the fittingly conclusive “Last Days”, the band couldn’t have closed this album off in a better way: catchy, frantic, and probably indirectly foreshadowing of a similar-sounding album that we will probably hear from this band given two years' time. Ted Leo, James Cant, and drummer Chris Wilson – there is currently not a bassist since Dave Lerner left the band in 2007 – are men who never seem to disappoint, but yet, haven’t quite been able to reach the same heights of quality of the band’s earliest material. Still, The Brutalist Bricks
is a slightly refined tweaking of the band’s concoction of sounds, producing an album that flows easily on most occasions and offers reason to return for more, while at the same time, never surprising anyone in the least. You won’t be wowed, I suppose, but you definitely won’t be disappointed either.