Another Solid Brick in the Wall
Indie power pop mogul and mod god Ted Leo has had his hands full trying to get his political regimen to feed into his lyrics for over a decade. It could be considered his calling card: the protest pop punk elements that strengthen the repertoire, or the rallying cries in his choruses that raise the bar for sentiment. What is often overlooked is the fact that he just writes great songs. Leo grinds out album after album of memorable 3 minute blasts of emotion and pop craftsmanship on par with anything Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello had to offer in their heyday. His latest release, The Brutalist Bricks, is no different.
Right out of the gates, “The Mighty Sparrow” sweetly slays with an uptempo melody reminiscent of something off of an XTC box set. “Ativan Eyes” is a pop gem that lays down some happy chords with just the right amount of distortion. A chorus of ”I would listen while you played me through my fears/I would whisper just to have you come near” will resonate throughout your entire morning subway stand. These are lyrics you pay attention to.
Not one to leave his punk roots banished to the way back machine, Leo and the Pharmacists also lay out brute, brash shuffles through songs like “The Stick”, two and a half minutes of exhaustive angst, and “Where Was My Brain”, a whiplash-inducing uppercut of tight Germs riffs.
The album’s midpoint is highlight heavy with the brilliant travelogue “Bottled In Cork,” whose lyrics read like a GPS with a tour story in every stanza. The instantly anthemic “Woke Up Near Chelsea” follows with its brilliant hopeless to hopeful verse ”We are born of despair and we long for what’s fair”. This resonates to the rote as the feedback swells before the crushing chorus.
With The Brutalist Bricks, Ted Leo is certainly not trying to cover new ground. The clues are all here. His roots are showing, his subtle politic is in check and the lyrics provoke intense thought (if you can decipher them through the howl of his gritty tenor). But the songs have real staying power, no matter which genre in his wheelhouse rises to the occasion. The intensity, array of emotion and hard work percolate throughout to make this album easily his best since 2003’s Hearts of Oak.