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TED LEO / PHARMACISTS – Shake The Streets (Lookout!)

Posted: February 17th, 2005, by Chris S

Ted is the great divider among my friends. People I know either love him unreservedly or can’t see what the fuss is about. I have begun to use Ted as a barometer of whether someone is a warm human being worth knowing, or is a cold robot with no heart who will only throw you away like a piece of rubbish should you offer them any affection. It’s that big a deal now.


Because Ted is the MAN.

His last album Hearts Of Oak is really important to me. It was the only Minidisc my player would read on the flight to and from Australia last year and so I listened to Ted on and off for 24 hours there and 24 hours back. I know this album inside out and I love it. It reminds me of a very hard time but it shines through. See, Ted is all about fighting the fight, wearing your heart on your sleeve and delivering everything with a level of integrity that goes beyond not having a barcode on your record.
Ted is the patron saint of everyone who’s ever dealt with people in the supposed punk rock community who have their complex morals down completely but who are, ultimately, a fucking arsehole.
Ted makes political records and Shake The Streets is an unashamedly political album.

“I’ll put it to you plain and bluntly
I’m worried for my tired country”
(The One Who Got Us Out).

“I want to take it to the president, him and all the cabinet, with a broom
I want to sweep the Halls of Arrogance
sweep the walls of the excrement of these baboons”
(Shake The Streets)

Ted’s been compared to Crass before. You can see why if you’re reading this. I hate comparing
bands to other bands but that Crass comparison was genius because the review (whoever wrote it) declared Ted a mixture of the militant UK punkers and none other than Curtis Mayfield.
Because Ted is first and foremost a lover not a fighter. Or at least when he fights he does so in the name of love and with a heart of oak. This is not just political statement-making, it’s the politics of the individual. Ted knows you can wear a Smash The System badge and be a vegan and never deal with a major label but if you’re rude to the checkout girl in the supermarket for no reason, then being “punk rock” is not going to excuse you from being mean or acting like a twat.

And before this gets so wrapped up in the term “punk rock” that you never want to hear the record, let’s not forget that Ted can really write a tune.
I’ll pull back a second and admit this album was disappointing on first listen as nothing stuck out like Ballad Of The Sin Eater or Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone? from the last LP. But after 2 listens I had 3 or 4 tunes I was into and then bit by bit the songs reveal themselves and sneak into your heart and the gaps get filled and the album starts to resemble a whole that you slowly get to know better and better.
I think the initial disappointment comes from the band being much more straight up on this album. There is little exploration of sounds and with the Pharmacists reduced to a power trio the sound is direct to say the least so the songs sound similar at first and there’s less to hang your hat on. I wouldn’t presume that touring with bands like Radio 4 (who have enjoyed success beyond Ted’s now) has influenced the sounds but I wonder if this new directness from Ted is in part influenced by seeing contemporaries achieve relative success with a much more limited palette – not to mention more limited song writing skills. Thankfully Ted has not cut back on his own song writing skills and investing time in this record really shows it and in the long run the to-the-point quality of the sounds serves to emphasise how good the songs are.
The One Who Got Us Out may as well be a How To guide to writing an emotionally stirring pop punk song. It’s wonderful. As is Little Dawn which sees Ted ditch his sly, funky guitar style for a brief moment and hit some fat rock chords just in case you weren’t aware that the glorious moment was the CHORUS. And talking of CHORUS get a load of Heart Problems which positively leaps from the speakers when it hits its stride.
Picture me doing star jumps with a bit of air guitar thrown in, covered in sweat, grinning. Not a pretty sight but if you’re going to see Ted play live better get used to it.
Ted’s songs have this faintly traditional, certainly celtic feel to them that recalls Thin Lizzy a lot as well as The Pogues. Maybe Elvis Costello. But, well…better because he knows why he’s doing it and he’s doing it for all the right reasons.
Anyone who finds this too straight, too American or too simplistic (Ted criticisms I have heard) is missing the point.
Ted Leo is an American who writes direct, deceptively simple songs. It’s what he does, he’s not trying to do something arty and clever and failing. He makes songs designed to floor you and they do if you let them.
Just go and see Ted and The Pharmacists live if you’re undecided. They preach their gospel with joy and fervour. Before they start playing, take a ten pound note and put it in your shoe. You’ll be needing it at the record stall when they’ve finished.

Chris S

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.


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