Ted Leo

The Hanged Man

Self-Released

Sep 08, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Find It At: AMAZON

Though he released a self-titled album with Aimee Mann under the name The Both back in 2014, Ted Leo has been unusually quiet this decade. For an artist who released an album every few years and toured relentlessly in the '90s with his band Chisel and then in the '00s with his backing band The Pharmacists, his absence was striking. So what happened? A series of personal and financial setbacks hampered Leo and his family and it took seven long years from 2010's The Brutalist Bricks for him to be able to release this Kickstarter-funded project after having been on a series of prominent indie labels such as Matador, Touch & Go, and Lookout! (two of them now defunct) in the previous decade.

The first sound you hear on the album's opening track, "Moon Out of Phase," is his signature electric guitar. However, this is a red herring. By far the quietest and moodiest album of Leo's solo career, it's clear that this is unlike anything else he's done before. For one, it's very personal in places. For a lyricist known to spout (intelligent) invective at the powers that be during the George W. Bush era and to make arcane historical and religious references with frequency in his songs, parts of The Hanged Man feel disarmingly unguarded. Indeed, on the penultimate track "Lonsdale Avenue," Leo openly talks about the death of his daughter after a premature attempt at birth and elsewhere, such as on "Can't Go Back" and "Used to Believe," he alludes to other events that occurred during his time between records such as his wife's illness due to a rare disease (she is now fully recovered). Thus, given all that trauma, it's a wonder that he's back making music.

Even the song that mostly seems to deal with the world at large, "William Weld in the 21st Century," isn't a rushed, hyper-political punk-influenced blast, but in this case a contemplative ballad referencing the former Massachussetts governor and perhaps alluding to current events and how Weld's Republican party of the past compares to those who occupy each chamber of government today.

In other words, like roughly half of the tracks here, it sounds like it could've been released on The Both. However, this is very much Leo's album, even more so than any of his other solo work. In fact, only Chris Wilson appears from The Pharmacists to lay down drum tracks on most songs. Overall, though, it feels the claustrophobic work of a solitary, driven man who's been through a lot but isn't broken.

Tracks that sound somewhat like his past are there as well and the hooks are brighter than ever on songs such as "Run to the City," the stunning "The Little Smug Supper Club" (perhaps a dig at scenesters or critics?), and single "You're Like Me."

Aside from perhaps 2003's incredible Hearts of Oak, this may be the best record Ted Leo has ever made. If not, it's certainly the boldest as it's bound to challenge parts of his fanbase hoping for another record like 2004's anti-Bush manifesto Shake the Sheets. Yes, another Republican is in power and the world's still a mess, but this time around, Leo looked inward, assessed all that happened to him, realized he still had something to say, and made a stunning record that's one of the year's very best. (www.tedleo.com)  

Author rating: 8.5/10

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