Ted Leo & The Pharmacists have been doing their thing for a while now, and consistently, at least by indie-rock standards; Living With the Living is their sixth full-length album since 1999. On ‘The Lost Brigade’ Leo sings, “every little memory’s a song,” which makes sense; as much as he gets attention for his politics, Ted Leo’s best songs have always been his evocative, reminiscing character sketches. On Living With the Living, he plays genre chameleon as much as ever, doing some hardcore shouting on ‘Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.’, some political punk on ‘Annunciation Day/Born on Christmas Day’, a little reggae on ‘The Unwanted Things’, and a veritable power ballad with ‘The Toro and the Toreador’; but mostly, Living With the Living is a collection of ridiculously tight, energetic pop-rock songs about hope and yearning that have been the group’s bread and butter since everyone learned all the words to ‘Timorous Me’. ‘The Sons of Cain’, for example, is quintessential Pharmacists, with frantic guitar strumming, driving drums, and Leo’s perpetually teenaged vocals.
His agelessness is what allows Ted Leo to keep putting out roughly the same album every two years without it ever getting stale. Having reached the point in his career where most rock singers would be content to start writing acoustic ponderings of approaching middle age, Leo still thinks like a precocious teenager. ‘Colleen’ tells the tale of a girl who slips through the cracks, and should keep his 15-year-old female fans happy (as well as his female fans who were once 15), while ‘Bottle of Buckie’ is a fanciful narrative about traveling, sticking up for yourself, and cheap English tonic wine. Leo lends a mature voice to youthful issues and energies, and even when his politics do get a bit overwhelming, he backs them up with snotty punk energy that only a 36 year old could provide. And he’s just so effortlessly consistent, it’s hard to complain that he doesn’t push his boundaries; when something is always this good, you don’t mind getting it more than once.