Ted Leo Experiences the 5 Stages of Grief on The Hanged Man
Complex, definitive and dynamic. Those are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe Ted Leo’s newest album, The Hanged Man. The singer’s most compelling and morose project to date, Leo puts the utmost passion into every note, almost bordering on disillusionment. On top of the divisive mix of harmonies, lyrics that are both political and personal add layers of depth to the album, showing parts of Leo that haven’t been recognized or seen before. Even though his seven year hiatus was almost gut-wrenching and seemingly permanent, The Hanged Man proves it was worth the wait.
The first song, “Moon Out Of Phase” is dangerously catchy and glows with hypnotic qualities. The song opens with consistent guitar chords and nothing more. The distortion adds elements of punk to the song, even despite the slow tempo. As impressive as these chords are, however, what sets the song apart is the vocals. Leo’s voice is commanding and grungy as he sings “This world is not for you,” making the listener can feel the pain and frustration coming through his voice. Embroidered with static in the background, the bursts of guitar truly propel the song to the next level.
The second track, “Used To Believe” is a lot more pop-y and upbeat. Somewhat reminiscent of Weezer as well as the Beatles, it’s a deeply moving song masquerading as happiness. He sings about how he has lost faith in the world, giving off vibes of complete and utter hopelessness. The next song, “Can’t Go Back” begins with frantic piano keys, along with vocal harmonies that create an instrumental even more bubbly than the previous song. “Can’t Go Back” is an old school love song through and through, with a strong jazz/blues influence.
“The Future (Is Learning to Wait Around for Things You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Wait For)” simply makes you want to dance. “The Nazarene” harkens back to the Beatles’ influence with indulgent, layered piano that eventually evolves into tumultuous crashing guitar riffs. One of the heavier tracks on the album, the soulful track is one of the big ballads that showcases Leo’s mastery of sound and song structure. “Run To The City” is another power pop anthem that succeeds through a catchy chorus and skillful guitar solos.
“Gray Havens” slows it back down, adding an orchestra in the background for heightened drama. “Make Me Feel Loved” is an album standout, taking on a more western, alternative feel. The vibe starts to change, as the listener can see Leo’s grieving process throughout the the song, making it one of the happier songs on the entire album. “Anthems Of None” is another relentless dance track. “You’re Like Me” is the best track on the album, addressing Leo’s demons and giving hope to others who have been through the things that he has gone through.
A recent Stereogum interview revealed that Leo was the victim of sexual assault as a child. He also has been dealing with the aftermath of losing a child before it was born. These heavy topics drive the album, seeing Leo sifting through the aftermath of what he’s lost. “Lonsdale Avenue” shows how Leo has moved on from these tragedies, singing about his return home after so many miles on his own. The last track, “Let’s Stay On The Moon” brings the whole album full circle as Leo reminisces about wanting to stay on the moon. It’s a fitting outro, as the topics Leo explores on The Hanged Man are some of the most dismal in his career. It’s an album that is packed with a diverse range of melodies that seep into your brain, and are sure to stay there for quite some time.