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Reviews:: First listen - Ted Leo Living with Living

Another of the lovely installments of first listens. This time, it’s one of my most anticipated records of the year: Ted Leo & PharmacistsLiving with Living. Granted, I’ve been a huge Ted Leo fan for a long time (enjoying his work with Chisel before jumping on board with his solo stuff), so my reviews tend to be biased and bordering on gushing, but I digress.

Over the last few years, Ted’s popularity spiked and he left the Lookout fold. This is his first release on Touch and Go, and it’s going to be heavily scrutinized. Even when he offered up some early demos of album tracks, “fans” were quick to tear them down. Finally, the album version of Sons of Cain was released and it was a kick in the teeth rocker with a little something extra. Out of nowhere came a hectic acoustic strum and handclaps to bulk up the track. Suddenly, the critics seemed to clam up.

Well, here we go:
Fifteen songs with some titles that indicate some revolution and anger. Could Ted be returning to the punk rock fold? After one listen, the answer is I don’t really know. He does at times, but he also hits us with more diversity than on any record he’s written so far. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar and a return to some of his more mod days (Who Do You Love), 50’s pop (Colleen), bar songs (Bottle of Bucky - complete with a recorder solo), and at times, surprising sense of restrained optimism. He's dealing with the situation we are trapped in, and trying to do his part to make it better.

Anyone who pictured Ted writing a song like the Toro and Toreador is way more in touch with his inner thoughts than me. His voice is backed by some simple atmospheric strums, begging for a drum fill and chainsaw guitars to rip in. Instead you are given a bouncing bass line and standard drums and a metal tinged, flaming solo for the duration of the track. It’s the type of song you’d hear in an anti war documentary, overtop a montage of body bags and folded flags.

On the other side of the coin, he has songs like Bomb.Repeat.Bomb and Annunciation Day/Born on Christmas Day that are simple chords, spoken word, shout chorused punk rocking anthems. He still protests the war and unlike so many artists today, he still has something to say that is worth listening to. He still dabbles in the dub reggae side of things (The Unwanted Things). I guess somehow he’s managed to expand his sound without alienating the fans who like his older work. He still has some of the classic TLPx tracks that we all love (Sons of Cain, Some Beginner’s Mind).

Overall, I really like the record, but I wonder if the majority of people who are new to the Ted Leo game will embrace it. This record exposes a new side to Ted; new sounds, textures and instruments. With several tracks pushing over 5 minutes – including the almost Brit-pop Manic Street Preachers, seven-minute monster The Lost Brigade, it’s obvious Ted and the crew are still growing as a band, even after all the years together. It’s not the album I expected at all, but I’m really happy he made it.

MP3:: Sons of Cain

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