Since Ted Leo’s new release is drawing a considerable amount of attention, garnering about a novel-length blurb/interview from Stereogum and extensive hype from other marquee rags, it’s got to be asked at some point: is he as good as Yo La Tengo? Even if you don’t agree with me, you should, partly because his left liberal anti-current-president shtick has simply already been DONE (indeed, five of his six total albums have issued during Republican presidencies, as ostensible direct responses thereto). And not that I’m against artists generally outdoing themselves, but just thinking about TED LEO doing that I think gives me finger-arthritis, and no one wants that.
Anyway, about a minute into opener “Moon out of Phase,” you realize that The Hanged Man is being orchestrated as an exercise in sound itself, at least as much as in lyrics or songwriting, and this thereby identifies him with the camp of Yo La Tengo, his fellow East-coast indie rockers. About a second into “Used to Believe,” you realize he doesn’t stand a chance.
Now, we could always look at this the other way: that maybe he’s still a legitimate politico-rocker spewing vitriol at the “core rotten” right or whatever (it’s the right, for the record), crafting these sociologically unifying anthems in the vein of punk rock but with roughly Yo La Tengo’s songwriting ability circa say May I Sing with Me. The truth is that the energy just isn’t there on this new effort — “Can’t Go Back” at least forges a sort of disco, keys-heavy groove which stands as an aberration within the overall Leo catalogue, but it’s very unclear as to where his exact inspiration lies here, the insipidity in his voice not helping matters too much. Indeed, he’s singing on these tracks with roughly the conviction of Jimmy Ray . Also, on “Can’t Go Back” he rips off Billy Joel’s “Keeping the Faith” in vocal, which is a horrible song anyway.
By the pointless melancholic grunge intro of “The Future (is Learning to…)”, I’m almost just sick of listening to this LP in general, and elsewhere Leo resorts to his old trick of Thin Lizzy-type indie-rock groove a la “The High Party” or something thereabouts, with a faux-raucous guitar solo, this time of course more “faux” than ever.
 For all you youngsters or oldsters, Jimmy Ray was the vocal enlarged-head behind the 1997 hit “Are You Jimmy Ray?”, who, for his promise to rape a girl should she “take a walk with him,” is presumably also from the East coast.