Sound: There is so much I can say about this band but for now I think I'll refrain from doing so. While I could probably go on for pages (and believe me, you probably don't want me to, ) the important thing here is the music and if you've been introduced to Ted Leo before, you should know what you're getting yourself into. For those of you who haven't been initiated yet, here's what you'll get: insanely catchy mod, punk and pop influenced rock.
Oh, but don't worry, there's more to this album (and quite frankly, this band) than what you'll hear me or anyone try to explain in a nutshell. Whereas Shake The Sheets was substantially stripped down, Living With the Living, the Touch and Go debut, is much more expansive. It runs a little like a mix tape, with fifteen (I refuse to acknowledge "Fourth World War" as an actual track) fairly solid songs that explore a variety of influences. The basic mod-punk framework is still there, but Leo likes to branch out. That's where you get "Bottle of Buckie's" Celtic/folk overtones. It's why "Colleen" reminds me of a Tin Pan Alley era pop song. It's how Ted can almost get away with "The Unwanted Things," a valiant stab at reggae that sounds better on live bootlegs than on the actual album. It's how "Sons of Cain" is just a pure rocker with impressive guitar work to match. See where I'm going with this? Simply put, the man wears his influences on his sleeve and out of his devotion, we get an album chock full of songs that are derived from those influences. When the songs are this good, I'm not going to hold that against him. // 8
Lyrics: Interestingly enough, the lyrics run the gamut of subjects too, but they seem to have one common theme: togetherness. And also politics. For those that know, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have always been a political band, if only to show that the personal is the political. This album is no exception, and he is much more brash and angrier than usual. Going from overt politics about the war, aerial bombings and CIA cover-ups ("... only you know what you've done!") it is when he steps back and goes for the personal jugular that he truly starts to shine. Being locked in a political insane asylum for the past eight years is enough to make anyone want to take a Sunday, as "La Costa Brava" suggests. It's also enough to discern that we still feel other things such as loss or love or a need to stand up against the overwhelming times we live in. There's no room for apathy! However, I think that the key word in all of that is the word "we" and that that's the point he's trying to make here. I appreciate such a stance; it gives me a little hope.
Vocally speaking, you either like it or you don't. While he has quite the range, it can be a little grating as there are a lot of times when he sings in falsetto. I, personally, happen to like it; I can't say the same for anyone else, though. // 8
Overall Impression: Obviously, if you couldn't tell by my enthusiasm, I'm a big fan of this band and I'm a big fan of this record. Nonetheless, I do think that it's one song too long. Closer "CIA" struck me out of nowhere the first time I heard it, and I thought I was actually listening to a hidden track. "Toro and the Toreador" (while itself a little long) ended the album on a perfect note. Why "CIA" is on there like that. It makes me yearn for more and it feels more like an afterthought rather than an ending. Personally, I think it would have been better sequenced in a different part of the album. But, that's just me. Maybe you'd like it at the end. As far as how it stacks up, I think I need to say that if you're looking for either Shake the Sheets or Tyranny of Distance or Hearts of Oak part deux, you will not find it here. This is something a little different, but it still holds it's own and is a welcome addition to his discography. I can't wait to see what comes next and I know that I would definitely buy this album again if I lost it. // 8