This might come as a shock to some fans: Ted Leo has made a bad
album. With his latest release, Shake the Sheets, Leo has
discarded the quirks and quality by which his previous releases
have been defined. While not a complete failure, Shake the
Sheets
is a huge step backward from 2002’s capable
Hearts of Oak and 2001’s now classic The Tyranny of
Distance
. All of Leo’s work to date has been
characterized by laser-sharp songwriting and unparalleled energy in
its execution. This album fails in both categories.

Music Reviews
British: Check. Balding: Check. Alcoholism: Check. Rudeness: Implied. (Courtesy of Lookout!)

While in the past Leo could be counted on to deliver exciting
albums, he reveals his weaknesses with Sheets.
Distance, with its superfluous hooks and excitement,
introduced Leo as a captivating solo artist. Oak, while not
on the same level of rocking as Distance, still showed Leo’s
merit as an intriguing songwriter by transcending the typical
assumptions about his musical range. The differences between his
songs and the way he used rhythm to break up his choruses and
verses were what made Leo such a refreshing voice on the
independent rock scene. With Shake the Sheets, Leo has not
captured the dynamic technique for which he has been known

For the most part, the songs on Sheets are
indistinguishable. In the past, Leo has written songs that cover a
wide range of musical styles, but also had clear and distinct
messages. On his previous releases Leo’s writing was crisp
and focused, generating albums that were inviting and challenging
for the listener. Shake the Sheets is a saggy pop album
through and through. The album starts solidly by leading off with
two strong tracks, “Me and Mia,” and “The
Angels’ Share.” These songs would have the listener
believe that Leo was back in full force. The respectable start is
quickly abandoned as the following two songs run together,
neutralizing the political message behind “Counting Down the
Hours.” It is clear Leo is not happy with the current state
of world affairs, but his lyrics are convoluted, “As
I’m walking toward tomorrow with a rifle in my hand / And
I’m thinkin’ about New England and I’m missing
old Japan.” Songs suffer from these inflated lyrics
throughout the album.

The best song on the album, and one Leo himself refers to as
“my favorite song I’ve ever written” is
“Little Dawn.” This song is exciting and well written:
in a sense, vintage Ted Leo. Its presence is incredibly revealing
about the nature of the album, reminding the listener of what might
have been.

The rhythms of the songs on the second half of the album are so
similar that it becomes difficult to tell where one mediocre song
ends and another begins. By this point on the album, any chance of
salvation is minute. There is a hint of promise when the opening
riff to “Walking to Do” starts, but that’s just
because it is overtly derivative of Leo’s biggest hit of his
career, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”

The tone and tempo of every song on Sheets is remarkably
similar. This makes for a boring and meandering effort. Overall,
the album is insignificant, with shallow messages and disappointing
production running rampant. The lack of direction is disheartening
and is to blame for the one-dimensional final product.

Since his early days as the leader of the seminal post-punk
outfit Chisel, Leo has been on the cutting edge of indie-rock. This
album suggests that had Leo remained focused on writing dynamic
rock songs, he could have avoided churning out bland and uninspired
power pop. While he may receive some radio airplay with this album,
Leo will be lucky not to alienate his die-hard fan base.

 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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