[Review] Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

27 Mar

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists - "The Brutalist Bricks"

Three years have passed since the release of double album Living With the Living, and a lot has changed. Leo’s moved to a new label (Matador), there’s a new guy running the country (so one wouldn’t expect another “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”), the band has a snazzy new website, and Twitter has burst onto the scene (in case you hadn’t heard @TedLeo won a Shorty Award a few weeks back for best Music tweets). In these times of great change I have come to regard Ted Leo as something of a constant.

When I first saw video of a solo acoustic performance of “One Polaroid a Day” back in October, I was pretty impressed. When “Even Heroes Have to Die” hit the internet as a free pre-release mp3, I was less enthralled but still feeling good about the album to come. Here’s a (dreaded) song-by-song breakdown of the The Brutalist Bricks:

“The Mighty Sparrow” is a kickass opener. Probably my favorite song on the record. (Video from Late Night With Jimmy Fallon)

“Mourning in America” is a re-recording of a song from 2008’s Rapid Response EP. Since I took a course on Reagan last spring, the title made me happy (and I borrowed it for a paper).

“Ativan Eyes” is one I’ve warmed to a bit from my first impression, it’s big-sounding but feels kind of stale at the same time. For some reason I was reminded of the Foo Fighters’ 2005 release In Your Honor.

“Even Heroes Have to Die” feels like an obvious single. Some major chord joy, pretty catchy. A lot of acoustic here.

“The Stick” is a hair under two minutes, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Not especially tuneful.

“Bottled In Cork” is a VERY Ted song. Wordy, straightforward, some guitar-hero time, lots of layered vocals. Once again, a lot of acoustic.

“Woke Up Near Chelsea” makes up for what lacks in melody with attitude.

“One Polaroid a Day” sees Leo use the bottom end of his expansive vocal range. I think the song would have been better served had he stuck to using his normal/falsetto range. I’m probably a bit biased because that’s how he sang it in the aforementioned video from last fall, but it just sounds wrong in the way it’s presented on the album.

“Where Was My Brain?” is a much catchier use of 2 minutes than “The Stick” was.

“Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees”
is a very approachable mid-tempo tune that apparently inspired the cover art???

“Tuberculoids Arrive in Hop” is a sort of ominious-sounding acoustic number that reminds me of Zeppelin III/IV material like the “Battle of Evermore.” I think that as a drastic change of pace it works pretty well. Liked the night sounds in the background. I heard that they were on loan from Neko Case.

“Gimme The Wire” is pretty standard Ted Leo fare. Good, but not great (though I did find the chorus grating; that’s an entirely different sort of “grate” however).

“Last Days” is an excellent closer; the sort of song Ted Leo + Rx are capable of when firing on all cylinders.

All in all, The Brutalist Bricks is a pretty good effort. It’s not on par with Hearts of Oak or Shake the Sheets, but if nothing else it proves that the guy’s still got it. This is not Ted Leo at his best, but to awkwardly paraphrase Tom Gabel, even when he’s at his worst he’s still better than most.

The Brutalist Bricks is out now, buy it here.
You can listen to a stream of the album here.


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