Album Review - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - "Living With The Living"

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists return this week with their first new release since 2004, the eclectic Living With The Living. The record marks more of a return to form than a great leap forward for Leo, reestablishing him as an artist comfortable working with a vast array of influences, as well as a vital political voice. It was produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, and offers a long set of songs (15 of ’em!) where his trademark punk is once again mixed healthily with soul, dub, Celtic, classic rock, pop, and reggae. Ted Leo has never sounded more consistently invigorated, and while Living With The Living may not be his best collection of songs, it may well be his most listenable, offering plenty for both enthusiasts and newcomers.

For much of the record Ted and the band sound refreshed and convincing, much more so than on 2004’s forgettable Shake the Sheets. Living With The Living swings for the fences. It plays out like his attempt at a London Calling, brimming with every influence Ted can throw in the pot, and full of enough memorable songs to impress for at least ¾ of itself. So yeah, few albums that run an hour have the attention span to be considered greats, let alone mentioned in the same breath as London Calling, and this one unfortunately suffers from these same editing issues. More than one experiment comes across as half-baked (the pop-influenced “Colleen”) , or just unappealing altogether (the militaristic “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”). Listening straight through can become tedious, especially since several of the songs have running times in the 5-7 minute range. There is a great 10 or 11 song album, Ted’s best, buried in Living With The Living, so it works better if listened to in spurts, or condensed into a shorter play list, so these moments come in quick succession instead of waiting around for them.

“The Sons of Cain” started making its way around the internet in January, and served as an exciting first listen. Capturing the brash and audacious energy gushing from the first half of the album, the song is propelled by a frantic, self-assured efficacy. He’s in his comfort zone and the band is prime - all punk rock fury mixed with some Who-like power chords. “La Costa Brava” is Ted successfully trying something new. At nearly 6 minutes, the song rides a highly melodic rhythm guitar line reminiscent of, dare I say, popular 1980’s music, and combines it with a vocal melody that is among his most immediate. The band lets loose at a few points, but finish the song with a prolonged meshing of harmony vocals, something that hasn’t been used by the band this effectively prior to this song.

MP3 :: The Sons of Cain
MP3 :: La Costa Brava
(from Living With The Living)

Visit Ted Leo’s website and myspace

Buy Living With The Living from Amazon and Insound.

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