Ted Leo led the DC power pop outfit Chisel through two full lengths and a handful of EPs. When the band called it quits not long after releasing their final LP, Set You Free , in 1997, Leo kept himself busy by forming a new band called the Sin Eaters, sitting in on a Secret Stars record ( Genealogies ), and touring with the Spinanes. Upon hearing that Ted Leo would soon be releasing a solo record, I eagerly awaited an album full of “Towncrushers,” the acoustic ballad that was a highlight of Set You Free .
On first listen, I was disappointed. The studio polish of Set You Free was abandoned for a more home recorded sound that at first is quite distracting. I actually hated this record for awhile, and filed it away with the rest of my LPs. The lo-fi recording and the sound collage interludes throughout the record were too much for me to wade through.
At the urging of a friend, I gave the record another try. What I found when I returned felt fresh and exciting. The only comparison that feels right would be to imagine Beck at his most lo-fi taking a shot at Billy Bragg’s Back to Basics collection. The comparison holds true throughout the record. DJ scratches, samples and programmed beats mix with stark guitars and vocals. It takes some digging and probably a few listens for it to make sense, but this record is full of the “Towncrushers” I was looking for. While it doesn’t do much justice to the more urgent moments of “Friends in Bands” and “Head in the Freezer,” the tenderness of “(none)” and “The Northeast Corridor” is more touching within the harsh recording environment. More importantly the album flows together and works well as one piece.
The Secret Stars Genealogies LP serves as a suitable companion piece to Rx/Pharmacists . The two records are similar in style and structure, and share some inside jokes, as well. Leo refers to the Secret Stars song “The Mode E” in “(none)” and bits of TSS’s “Release Form” pop up in several forms. Rx/Pharmacists is a multi-layered and mature record worthy of repeated listens and a little effort from the listener.
Gern Blandsten, P.O. Box 356, River Edge, NJ 07661