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Ted Leo & The Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks (Album Review)

It’s easy to draw up The Tyranny of Distance as Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ best album, right? Perhaps you’re partial to Hearts of Oak, but in the end, there is little refuting the steadiness of their catalog. Although they’ve made a name for fashioning such punk and highly volatile rock into splendidly excellent music, one has to assume that a change would be approaching soon. Just how long can you continue to follow up with the same shtick before eventually attempting something new?

Try not to focus on such misunderstanding because while we were contemplating this, Leo and his Pharmacists were out on the road, touring and making new music for their fifth album as a band. With The Brutalist Bricks, they’ve silenced doubters with another skillful dose of catchy rock and it’s quite the remedy for any sour disbelievers. You see, even when they’re attentively composing music to reach new levels of excitement, they are quickly amassing a new set of songs to pair with that enthusiasm. And when there isn’t anything showing but an impressive drive towards hit-making wonder, as is the case with something like “Even Heroes Have to Die,” you have nothing else to do but listen along with a smile on your face.

I don’t even think you could really fault someone like Leo for continuing to write the same kind of music – there isn’t anything wrong yet. Usually, you’ll find bands that have become shadows of their pasts but with these musicians, the music seems to get tighter, snazzier and even snappier, with more and more practice. On “Bottled in Cork,” Leo and his band playfully sing, “I think I’m falling in love…tell the bartender” to the tune of clashing drums and guitars. The return of guitarist James Canty is a resurgence as Leo is able to solo and improvise, knowing that his support is in full swing and like the aforementioned song, something like the “Bartolomeo and the Buzzing of Bees” buzzes with a fluid gel of musicianship. Each member covering their territory with rousing results and still finding a way to come together: united and resolved.

Remember back during the middle of the last decade when words circulated that Leo was suffering from throat problems and would need subsequent surgery? The uproar of worry was felt within every level of music devotees while Leo did his best to silence doubters with an album that was solid overall but mostly overlooked by one massive single in Shake the Sheets (how many times do we need to hear that “Me and Mia” is probably the best song he’s ever written?) If there was any lingering wonder after the disappointing Living with the Living, it’s been soundly atoned with The Brutalist Bricks. Not only does Leo’s voice sound inspiringly fantastic but he alters it from smooth baritone to quirky punk rocker in a heartbeat.

One of the biggest things that was continually repeated, either on press releases, on reminders or even on Matador’s own page for the album was this: if you’ve seen Ted Leo and his band touring then you might be well aware of the songs on The Brutalist Kicks but be forewarned, they’re better, deeper and pack a mightier punch on the actual album. I’m not sure how ‘flat’ they sounded live but maybe it’s just that they sound so much better behind a full touring schedule where all of the kinks can be worked out. I’ll tell you one thing though, a memorable song like “Woke Up Next to Chelsea,” which finds Leo and his band shredding their instruments and wailing away – on top of flawless musicianship – sounds downright fantastic all done up.

For in the end, it’s this dying breed of consistency that should be rewarded. Sure, a change of pace might be needed, sooner rather than later but in the meantime, we’ll gladly eat up anything Leo offers in the future – just as long as it’s as good as The Brutalist Bricks.