Ted Leo and the Pharmacists “The Brutalist Bricks”

Between the airing of the bronzed-skinned, STD love fest “Jersey Shore” and the New Jersey Net’s horrific 12-70 record, it’s been a rough year for the Garden State. Even Jersey’s film-making son, Kevin Smith, had his strange run-in with airport security over his weight. There’s no denying – times have been tough on Jersey folk. Fortunately, a couple Jersey bands have picked up this wretched state, creating a few great albums in 2010 that can help the natives forget about their latest run of bad luck (or bad spray-on tans). Welcome, to Jersey Core.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
“The Brutalist Bricks”
Matador Records

Rating: 7

For some reason, being from Jersey automatically corners an artist into comparisons with Bruce Springsteen. For one, I don’t get why Bon Jovi gets left out of the equation, but often this comparison is made simply to lazy journalism (using the word “comparison” twice in one paragraph is also “lazy”, but I’m too tired to grab the Thesaurus, so deal with it!). Ted Leo gets mis-represented all too often by the Bruce label, a connection that I still fail to see. Yes, he occasionally sings about the working man (although he never mentions Joanie once) and more often he delves into politics, but the correlation ends there.  Ted Leo’s sound is completely different: while Bruce opts for jangly guitar anthems, Ted tears away with angular riffs and poppy nuggets.

On “The Brutalist Bricks”, Ted Leo continues to push his political agenda with songs like “Mourning in America” and “The Stick”, but the album as a whole seems to lack the fire of the past. In the midst of the contentious 2004 election, Leo’s “Shake the Sheets” was filled with an authentic fervor against Dubya, combining his sweet melodies with vicious anti-Bush rhetoric. I saw Ted Leo live in Austin the night before the election (it was actually Halloween, and the band came out dressed as AC/DC).  Between each song, Leo would take time to put on his best Nostradamus impression, predicting the downfall of the Bush regime.  Of course, this visionary dream turned to a nightmare quicker than Tobey McGuire turned emo in “Spiderman 3” (speaking of nightmares…).

Leo’s follow-up album “Living with the Living” still contained some solid songs, but they took on a darker, more depressing tone. “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”, the best song on the album, sounds nothing like anything Leo had done prior. Forced to wallow four more years in the Bush debacle, Leo had turned emo himself, focusing on the negatives of the world in his own unique way.

But now, with a liberal in office, Leo’s anti-conservative rants don’t seem quite so pertinent. In search of a target, he aims his anger at big business and even right-wing religious nuts, yet it doesn’t have the same fist pump appeal.  Screaming about bombs is one thing, but “Woke Up Near Chelsea’s” anthem of “We’ve all got a job to do, and we all hate God” seems a bit much.

Ted Leo attacks pretty much everything including religion on “Woke Up Near Chelsea”:

Really though, I can’t dog a Ted Leo album.  He doesn’t make bad albums; it’s a fact. Maybe this dog doesn’t have as much bite, but he sticks to his formula and continues creating infectious harmonies (yes, it may seem like I’m getting lazy again using the word “dog” twice in the same paragraph BUT one is a verb and the other is a noun: suck on that Trebek!).

At his best though, Leo is pushing the boundaries of his sound. While “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb” showed Ted going hardcore, “One Polaroid A Day” presents Leo as a Barry White clone. On first listen its strange to hear the Jersey boy ditching his signature tenor voice for a soulful approach, but after further listen you’ll begin to realize it’s the best song on the album. Regardless, Leo is at his finest when he’s challenging others; even if that means challenging his own sound.

The soulful Ted Leo- Enjoy! (“One Polaroid a Day”):

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