Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are just one of those bands that never seem to age. Churning out punk infused pop songs for over a decade, the often politically charged band seems fixed in their technique: catchy guitar hooks, sing-a-long choruses and ebullient vocals. Despite their simplistic approach, the band has tackled large issues over the years, including failed politics, war, mental illness and religion. Ted Leo’s political awareness has made him one of the good guys of indie rock. Sincerity has never been a fault of the band, but by their fifth full-length release, “The Brutalist Bricks,” questions have been raised. Can the guys can still produce with the same fervor heard over a decade ago?
From the first 30 seconds, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists resoundingly quiet the skeptics. Like recent opening tracks “Me and Mia” and “Sons of Cain,” opener “The Mighty Sparrow” packs a huge punch, bursting out as abruptly and as intensely as the lyrics suggest, “When the café doors exploded, I reacted too.” The best elements of the band’s work come to fruition immediately: instantly catchy guitar hooks and Ted Leo’s patented croon, sounding just as fresh and invigorated as heard on 2001’s “The Tyranny of Distance.”
The single “Even Heroes Have to Die” shows off Leo’s voice and his acoustic strumming is enriched with clarity. While the drumming sharply jabs, Leo bemoans a war-ridden world, with his cynicism melting into melancholy as he dejectedly wails near the song’s conclusion.
At his more literate self, Leo solemnly sings about the importance of experience in a technological world in “One Polaroid a Day,” mourning how the sensation of capturing a moment to film (or to digitalized bits) has become more important than enjoying the actual moment.
“Bottled in Cork” adds to the record’s musical expansiveness, seamlessly bridging movements from the frenetic opener to a call and response verse and ultimately to the addictive chorus, where Leo endearingly repeats, “Tell the bartender I think I’m falling in love.”
Whereas the group’s previous album, “Living with the Living,” was criticized for its length, “The Brutalist Bricks” is a full 20 minutes shorter. Brevity seems to work better, as the choruses seem more focused and leave the listener wanting for more, like on the politically incensed “Mourning in America” or the affectionate “Ativan Eyes.” Fans will quickly embrace this song, and the entire album, as it is the flawless sound the group has been playing for years.
“The Brutalist Bricks” is yet another prescription of excellence from the Pharmacists.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.