It’s going to read like How Not To Write Record Reviews With Cliches 101, but there are times when you can’t avoid em: We need Ted Leo now more than ever. (I will pause so you can get all the groaning out of your system.) But hear me out.
In a world full of Ford commercials drawling “This is OUR country,” where our government is destroying secret laptops and refusing to answer questions about it, where the names of more and more 19-year-old kids dying in Iraq are scrolled across the Sunday morning news programs every week and yet somehow the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby is still making headline news, where are the people who are just a little bit scared of waking up every morning in the Land of the Free supposed to find comfort?
You could do worse than starting with Living With The Living.
It would be really easy to make a token political record filled with platitudes and indignation and very little else if you’re Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, and there is an abundance of indignation here—check out “bomb.repeat.bomb.” The song has plenty of potential to fall completely flat. But there’s something about Leo’s delivery, the immediacy of the screaming and way he turns phrases like “In and out / no mess no fuss” on their heads, that makes you forgive the fact that the song really does sort of read like an impassioned Daily Kos comment written at three in the morning when you’re supposed to be writing your Political Science term paper, or things you scream at the TV while you’re watching Nancy Grace… Elsewhere, he gets all Man Of The People on “Who Do You Love,” with open nods to Springsteen and lyrics like “And so goes the most of our freedom of speech: we live for the city, we work for the beach / And when the weekend seems to be just out of reach / Just make the most of what you’re paid, dear.”
This tendency to Speak for a Generation would be fairly precious were it not for the seemingly effortless pop sensibility and the merging of the personal with the political. Leo is hyper-aware of the line he is walking, and he toes it beautifully. On “Annunciation Day/Born On Christmas Day,” he paints a picture of himself age twelve (or, debatably, a different narrator), marching around a schoolyard dreaming of being sent to the Falklands, and then sings that we are in “eternal war,” and that “not even the government knows what the fuck it’s for anymore.”
While the band is known for mixing all sorts of genres in their music (notably reggae and dub), the most different direction this record goes is “The Toro and the Toreador,” which is half old-school Motown ballad, half classic rock lighter-flicker. He stretches his capacity for falsetto further than it’s ever gone, and the result is startling and charming, singing wistfully, “I can see the where and how, but I don’t know the why, or if it’s right to try.”
The most personal sentiment on the record can be summed up with one line, from the chiming, eight-minute (!) “The Lost Brigade: “Resolutions live and die but every memory of mine’s a song.” It’s a song about the healing power of music within an album that once again itself succeeds in healing fractured spirits. When people who are coming of age in this decade look back on how fucked up everything was, there’s no doubt that they’re going to associate some powerful memories with these songs.
Ted Leo & The Pharmicists – “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”
Apr 25, 07 – First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)
Apr 26, 07 – Club 770 (Madison, WI)
Apr 27, 07 – The Picador (Iowa City, IA)
Apr 28, 07 – Metro (Chicago, IL)
Apr 30, 07 – Magic Stick (Detroit, MI)
May 2, 07 – The Mod Club (Toronto, ON)
May 3, 07 – La Sala Rossa (Montreal, QC)
May 4, 07 – Avalon (Boston, MA)
May 5, 07 – Webster Hall (New York, NY)