Shake the Sheets

Band: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Album: Shake the Sheets
Best song: “Me and Mia” and “Little Dawn” are the two best songs on the album.
Worst song: “Criminal Piece” isn’t perfect, but still pretty good.

Punk rock isn’t a genre I adore. There’s a certain immaturity inherent in even the most mature Green Day record that turns me off.

That’s not to say I listen to incredibly mature, thoughtful music. I don’t. I listen to a lot of mostly immature music. I listen to a lot of immature, silly music. But, for whatever reason, punk rock doesn’t appeal to me.

Ted Leo’s version of punk rock is more mature, more nuanced and more interesting than most. It’s not musically complex, though not as simple as the Sex Pistols or Ramones of the world. Leo’s guitar work is cutting and sharp, with minimal silly riffing and even less power chording punk nonsense. Instead, he uses small riffs and trills to melodize. The rhythm section is easy and tight. “Me and Mia” is a drumming shock, with starts and stops aplenty, while “Heart Problems” has the drumline of a Rush song on mood stabilizers.

The main attraction, though is Leo himself. His slightly nasal, certainly distinctive voice runs through all the songs. Sustaining longer than normal, he cracks live and hits pleasant high notes as well as anyone of his gender (see his Kelly Clarkson cover here for an example). His shouts on “Heart Problems” contrast only with his falsetto optimism. “The Angels’ Share” has a nice guitar line and a jazzy rhythm.

“Walking to Do” is a sweet lyric, sung with Leo’s charm. The album’s title track shows off Leo’s politics fully, a skill he’s acquired later in his career. Leo also noodles on his guitar fully, approaching Superchunk status.

“Me and Mia,” though veiled, is a song about eating disorders, palpable and sarcastic. “Do you believe in something beautiful” bites, despite Leo’s affable drone. The guitar line is fast and fun. It’s probably the album’s best song, if not for “Little Dawn.” “Little Dawn” is sunny and pretty, with a driving guitar riff. The coda has Leo repeating “it’s all right” over a full band repeat of the riff. Catchy and fun, it’s Leo’s best work.

The basis of this particulary site is for me to write about albums I enjoy. I’ve mentioned the concept of “driving albums” a little here, but my full feeling on it is that there are few albums that I can enjoy, front to back. Driving albums are the ones I am always in the mood for. They’re the ones that can make a drive seem shorter. They’re the ones I don’t need to skip around on.

(When I moved out here, this turned into “Metro albums.” The first Metro album, Pinback’s Blue Screen Life, was the one I enjoyed while taking the Metro from the Washington Post to the end of the line in Gaithersburg. It’s about an hourlong ride. Blue Screen Life remains a favorite because it was my companion through that time of my life.)

Shake the Sheets is a driving album. It’s an easy album to get lost in. The songs flow from one to another.

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