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“Ted Leo as Affirmation That People Should Stop Doing These Stupid Anniversary Celebrations for Albums”

The terms “political rock” and “Ted Leo” are mutual with each other. Actually, they both failed. They coexist within the same universe now, in mutual pity, commiseration and consternation. The last Ted Leo album wasn’t even good enough to be classified as legitimate “slop” and in our political system, after all those innocent Iraqis were killed for their oil, we now have a failing casino tycoon who bought his way to the presidency and is an out-of-the-closet a**hole.
And to be honest, this has nothing to do with my last post: it’s entirely a coincidence that in that Warped Tour kiss-off I brought up the topic of bands that came out and made statements against the war. Maybe it’s that, if not that quite being absolutely the LAST time music was vital, such a catastrophic event of humanistic luridness surely spurs things on, when it comes to creating punk rock, which Ted Leo marginally does, by rule. Punk and rock are always I think borne out of disillusionment, like the lonesome corner of the country Seattle with its desperate reality and poignant artistic vision that begat grunge, reluctant before adulation of either punk or heavy metal.
And then examining Leo’s own initial primal cry onto the scene, “Biomusicology”: itself it’s laden with such ironies and tragedies as “Had we never come across the vastness of pavement / The barrenness of waves and / The grayness of the sea / Never lost and ne’er been divided / We’d have ne’er reached seas so shining” (what’s really amazing about this song is that he makes this statement at a time when he was essentially a nobody and then these lyrics would more or less propel him into critical acclaim and indie rock renown) that you get the sense he’s used to dealing with impasses and that such things fuel the fire. On the same album, on an excellent, standout track “St. John the Divine” he pleas at the end “Please don’t take my anger away”, which gives us not maybe a whole glimpse, but another onion layer removed from Leo’s mind and muse and what really makes him tick [by the way whatever it was is gone now, although I did like The Brutalist Bricks (2010)]. Hearts of Oak (2003) then is a very disconcerted album, the vitriol coming to a head on what I think is an underrated cut “The Ballad of the Sin Eater” (which is a reference to the quintessential American) on which, literally, Leo wakes up one morning and cannot stand anything at all so he goes overseas to Europe just to see what he can see, the song’s chorus then culminating in “You didn’t think they could hate ya now did ya / Oh but they hate ya / They hate ya ’cause you’re guilty oh”. So again, these aren’t songs of celebration: they’re songs of a discontent, songs which tweak problems with the world.
After Hearts of Oak comes Shake the Sheets (2004), his political album and admittedly the first album I ever heard from our resident indie-punk guitar-gunslinger. I let this one dude borrow the CD about a couple weeks after I bought it (actually he briefly stole it) and it would be hard for me to put it any better than he did: “The man understands the pop structure impeccably.” This is especially noteworthy, of course, since in style the music is pretty punk-leaning, positioning his band as sort of like a Green Day with a lead singer who’s incapable of joking around at all, instead of being preternaturally compelled to ALWAYS joke around [writing songs about a physically abusive girlfriend he loves, bemoaning a shrink telling him it’s “lack of sex that’s bringing (him) down”, et. al.] It was a great listenable, hummable, danceable album but it ultimately failed, as the war proceeded and more Iraqis lost their lives, but more importantly, MORE AMERICANS LOST THEIR LIVES! GET ‘ER DONE! Can you believe they sent those American boys to be killed and not to Chicago first?

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