Monday, June 28, 2010

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - The Brutalist Bricks

Where have all the rude boys gone?

They’re pounding the pavement, looking for work in our wi-fi layered neighborhoods, too busy trying to become a part of the system rather than rebel against it.

It’s called getting older, and while it’s something to fear for a few years in your twenties, you begin to realize that it’s inevitable. The least you can do is to hide just how much you’ve really sold out to your friends who are still holding on to their righteous ideology while perfecting their latte art instead of perfecting their resume.

Don’t worry. They’ll eventually sell out too and all of that progressive zeal will be replaced with complacency and compromise. Hell, even Ted Leo is beginning to get softer lyrically while cleverly revisiting the same blend of Attractions’ bash that made him such a vital voice during the Bush II administration.

Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of Leo’s lefty bent to appease even the most cynical undergrad, but there’s enough infectious rhythms happening within The Brutalist Bricks that even a Tea Party member may find their groove thing.

Because as Ted Leo approaches 40, he’s beginning to understand that more meaningful change may only come if he looks beyond the dives of those college towns. And maybe he’s starting to feel that his bark is just getting lost in the static of a country where people not only have an opinion of everything, they think they have a right to scream it in town hall meetings, government buildings, and in ALL CAPS on the internet.

Yes, the only complaint with The Brutalist Bricks may be with how utterly normal it seems now, and much of that is in no large fault of his own. It shows Leo and the Pharmacists wisely returning to their blueprint prior to Living With The Living, showing off just how tight this band can be in front of a few microphones and after a few months of nine-to-five rehearsing. Bricks has Leo and company patting us on the back rather than kicking us in the ass. To be sure, we needed it back then, just like we need a level-headed Leo right about now.

“I’m so sick of cynics and I want something to believe in” sings Ted Leo on “Ativan Eyes,” suggesting that maybe those pharmaceutical companies have created a nation of cloudy-eyed cynics, free from panic attacks but also from an ability to connect with one another.

“Even Heroes Have To Die” is Leo’s best entry for Nick Lowe’s production reel while “Bottled In Cork” serves as his demo for Elvis Costello’s Spectacle consideration.

There are a few missteps: “One Polaroid A Day” is a breathy and preachy jab at people to turn off their computers and get outside to take pictures using the dead technology of a bankrupt brand. “Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop” is an acoustic number that finds Leo playing to a chorus of crickets and messing with a ridiculous Leslie speaker trick during the bridge, completely spoiling the mood of what is otherwise a forgetful two minute bathroom break.

Aside from two duds and a fairly weak Minutemen nod (“The Stick”), The Brutalist Bricks is another fine entry in Leo’s growing catalog, one that will surely grow in stature the moment he’s not around to preach to us from stage left or the moment he decides to change course, tempo, or political parties.

Until then, The Brutalist Bricks presents an older Ted Leo on a sturdy foundation, able to withstand anything that the rude boys might be considering at this moment.
Which is probably a well-deserved resume update.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

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