Ted Leo + The Pharmacists
Shake the Sheets
Confession time: I still have yet to listen to Green Day’s American Idiot. Y’know, all the endless blah blah about how it’s a punk rock opera just doesn’t do it for me. I like Green Day, but I’m not buying deep socio-political commentary from a group of guys who are willing to ape the style of their bastard post-emo offspring to keep up with a fickle demographic. Don’t even get me started on the band’s red carpet preening at the Grammy’s… For me, punk’s most pleasing aesthetic is its simplicity, its straightforwardness in telling its message, and in 2004, for my money, no one had Shake the Sheets beat.
The opener “Me & Mia” is one of Leo’s strongest statements on the album; a grass roots call to action and involvement that bursts with lines like “some are dying for a cause/but that don’t make it yours” and “what’s eating you alive/might help you to survive.” The lyrics are wrapped in a firestarter of instrumentation, slipping seamlessly from bumpy pop on the intro to overdriven punk verses and a quasi-ska bridge before closing in mounting chaotic thunder.
Leo’s all around gift of melody is what makes Shake the Sheets such a success. At all times he retains the sweet aftertaste of pop even during his most unhinged moments, instantly recalling his musical forerunners like The Jam and The Clash, as well as laying a fresh template for coming generations. Perhaps the best moments occur when the band eases into the less typically punk areas of the musical spectrum. “Counting Down the Hours” has a great mid-summer swagger in its acoustic guitar rhythm, and “Walking to Do” brings to mind a more sprightly Thin Lizzy or Dire Straits and provides the disc’s strongest, most accessible metaphor: success/happiness through universal involvement and camaraderie. The album maintains this unprecedented optimism throughout, despite dealing with the type of heavy political subject matter that gets most punk bands spitting nihilist venom. Ironically, this hopefulness is what gives Shake the Sheets its undeniably melancholy undercurrent. Written in the pre-election fervor but released on October 19th, the album should have been one of many death knells for the Bush administration. As it is, the disc will retain its relevancy for the next four years.