Written by: Bo Liebman
It’s hard to pin point what exactly isn’t working with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists newest album. The album opens strongly with “The Mighty Sparrow”, which contains the same energetic guitars and melodic mod melodies that made his album Shake the Sheets a near-classic. That album put all of Leo’s influences in perfect balance: punk, pop, mod and classic rock.
What may be hurting this record is an inbalance, as Leo’s love of old school punk weighs heavily on the songs. This is not to say that this sounds like a Minor Threat album. Even the most politically charged songs contain enough bounce and swing to pogo along to (see track 3 “Ativan Eyes”). There is a distinct shift in Leo’s vocal approach, using more of hardcore’s speak-singing that Ian MacKaye popularized in Fugazi (see track 5 “The Stick”) than full-on singing, which is a shame since Leo actually can sing.
After all is said and analyzed, it may simply come down to the fact that this collection of songs is simply not as strong as past albums. Ted Leo is an excellent song writer, and his talent peaks its head out at brief moments on The Brutalist Bricks (“Bottled in a Cork” is one of these stand-outs), but if you’re looking for his best work, go back to his older albums Hearts of Oak and Shake the Sheets. Save this one for when you’re already a fan.