Reviewed by Mary Rehak.
A few numbers to start you off: Ted Leo has been singing professionally for almost 20 years, more than half of them with the Pharmacists. The Brutalist Bricks is their sixth album together, their first under Matador Records and Ted’s last before hitting 40.
After all those years, he’s still writing punk songs to a ridiculously catchy old-school rock ‘n’ roll-influenced indie beat. The punk is obvious: lyrics all about politics and screwed-up relationships to 100 BPMs or more. Indie in that fairly bullshit way the genre is used as an umbrella for every band whose sound is an amalgam of difficult-to-quantify influences.
He sings every lyric with total commitment, as if they all make perfect sense. But what does “while you’re following the sparrow, I can only follow the clock” mean, anyway? Believe it or not, this is about as direct as Ted Leo gets; if you’re a long-time fan, you’re accustomed to worse, and if you’re new, feel free to just sing along to the earworm-inducing nonsensical metaphors.
As energetic as this album is through your speakers, played live it is going to translate explosively. Do people mosh at a Ted Leo concert? Because they inevitably will at the album-title-referencing “Where Was My Brain?” It’s a punk song through and through, from driving drums to racing guitar and relentlessly adrenalin-building vocals.
However, “Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop” is a rapid about-face of tempo-change, acoustic guitar and pre-recorded cricket noises—very aw-shucks, just playing on my front porch!—that I’m not sure works with the rest of the album at all. I would’ve preferred another catchy and quick showcase of his dizzyingly dexterous guitar skills, of which I must admit the album contains no shortage.
One last note: The last track of the album segued into Ted Neugent’s “Stranglehold” in my iTunes, and I totally thought Ted Leo was covering it. Wow, that would be awesome. Oh, and Ted Leo’s Twitter kind of kicks ass.
Red River rating: 7.5 out of 10