The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo And The Pharmacists

Matador Records, 2010

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove


It just makes me laugh.

I’m referring to the opening line from “Ativan Eyes,” the second track on The Brutalist Bricks: “The industry is out of touch / The means of production are now in the hands of the workers.”

Pitchfork writer Paul Thompson said the line doesn’t belong “in a pop tune” and that it feels “a little too forceful no matter how many times you run into [it].” And I say very good. I’m entertained by the audacity of Leo’s writing and delivery.

And isn’t that a lesson Elvis Costello taught us a long time ago? That pop lyrics can be forceful? Of course, many artists before Costello demonstrated the same idea, but I bring him up because Ted Leo And The Pharmacists are quite similar to Elvis Costello And The Attractions. The main difference between the two is that the former doesn’t explore as many genres.

Then again, I’m not as familiar with all of Leo’s albums. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Brutalist Bricks is the first one I’ve listened to all the way through, but I know enough of the band’s songs to know they are punk to a great extent.

There’s a lot to like about this group. Bassist Marty Key and drummer Chris Wilson make up the dependable rhythm section, energetic but not overwhelming. Leo and James Canty are great rhythm guitarists and don’t envision solos as a way to show off. Finally, Leo is a cool frontman who would rather mock and attack than whine and dream.

The Brutalist Bricks is a listenable album for the most part, with its five middle tracks being the most impressive stretch. Three of these songs – “The Stick,” “Woke Up Near Chelsea,” and “Where Was My Brain?” – are aggressive punk exercises. I especially like the bleak ending to “The Stick:” “You think the government, it wants you on your knees / But I’ll tell you something, and here it is / They want you driving to the supermarket, buying milk and cheese / And generating taxes to fuel their corn subsidies / You’re either nibbling at the carrot, or you get beat with the fasces.”

The two other tracks that make up the album’s midsection are different, though. They are more or less wry pop songs. “Bottled In Cork” misdirects you with a 20-second punk opening before the acoustic guitars are broken out for an odd sing-a-long that concludes with the fun repetition of “Tell the bartender, I think I’m falling in love.” But “One Polaroid A Day” is a bigger surprise in a way. Leo alters his vocals quite a bit for the track – much deeper and smokier – and the funkiness of the cut goes beyond what I expected from this band, particularly the guitar playing.

All this talk about the middle of the album might raise the question: Does The Brutalist Bricks have a weak beginning and/or ending? Not really. In fact, the first (“The Mighty Sparrow”) and last (“Last Days”) tracks make a nice frame. That said, two songs toward the end, “Bartolomeo And The Buzzing Of Bees” and “Tuberculoids Arrive In Hop,” just don’t have the bite of the rest of the disc because they take no risks.

 Thankfully, Ted Leo And The Pharmacists usually don’t hold back, for better or worse.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2010 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Matador Records, and is used for informational purposes only.