Ted Leo just isn’t like most other current-gen punk rockers. He understands the distinction between childish folly and youthful vigor. He knows that artistic ambition doesn’t equal cranking up the amps and hiring an orchestra. And he will likely never replace political consciousness with momentary “relevance.”
On Living With The Living, Leo’s fifth album with the Pharmacists, his music reflects a parallel unconcern with ultra-modernity. He practically insists on comparisons and connections to past heroes — Joe Jackson (voice), Paul Weller (guitar), Bruce Springsteen (Jersey) — but at the same time eludes the accusation that he’s Version 2.0 of any predecessor.
His teeth-gritting, sinew-straining commitment helps, especially as bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson clearly share it, but commitment is only as worthy as the cause it serves. Leo devotes mind and muscle to songwriting that effectively carries on the true punk faith.
In vivid contrast to his would-be peers, Leo travels many paths to keep his faith. “The Unwanted Things” is a honeyed take on Elvis Costello and the Clash’s genuine affection for reggae; “A Bottle Of Buckie” brings an Irish-American pride to the Pogues and Billy Bragg; and “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb” delivers a broadside that Bad Religion should envy.
Producer Brendan Canty, in a bit of guidance appropriate for a member of Fugazi, helps to keep each moment crisply immediate and basically untouched by layered gloss. This spotlights Leo’s intelligent intensity, which gives Living With The Living a sense of timelessness, happening right now.