The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists / Ted Leo

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The Brutalist Bricks Review

by Tim Sendra

The name Ted Leo on the spine of a CD is like a trademark of consistency. Before the first note cuts through the air, you know what you are going to get. It’s been this way since his time with Chisel back in the mid-'90s, and it’s no different on this first record for Matador, 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks. Leo and his band display the expected high level of passion as they run through a batch of consistently strong power pop-influenced, punk-tinged rock & roll songs, never dialing back to anything less than nine or so. Even the quiet songs, of which there are a couple, seethe with barely suppressed feelings and rage. Anyone thinking that the regime change in the U.S. that took place between this and Leo’s previous album have tempered his anger at the system would be dead wrong. Leo’s typically knotty and sometimes hard-to-decode lyrics rail against the kind of troubles and injustices a new Administration, even one more in line with Leo’s ideals, can’t just wipe away. In lesser hands, the words could fall flat, or at very least become an annoyance, but Leo’s delivery and total commitment win out. It helps, too, that The Brutalist Bricks is loaded with very sticky melodies and hooks; Leo’s gift for singalong choruses and soaring vocal lines hasn’t deserted him here. The production is first-rate, too; the guitars cut through the air like shards of glass, the rhythm section sounds deep and rich, and there are enough little sonic touches (handclaps, organ, sirens, sound effects) to keep things interesting. Quite a few of the songs rank with Leo’s best work; the ripping, Damned-inspired rocker "Where Was My Brain?," the super catchy (and slightly creepy) "Ativan Eyes," the dynamic "The Mighty Sparrow," and the typically poignant ballad "Even Heroes Have to Die" all qualify. Only the laid-back almost dance-y track "One Polaroid a Day" falls short of his usual standard, as Leo’s low-register croon isn’t his strongest vocal attribute. In many, if not most, artist’s case, making the same record again and again would be seen as a fault. In Leo’s case, it’s somehow comforting that every few years he’ll be along to inspire and cajole his fans with his dedication and passion. The Brutalist Bricks will let no one down in that regard.

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