The biggest problem with what’s come to be defined as punk music is that it doesn’t do much growing. For the classification to apply, “punk” artists must confine themselves to the genre’s boundaries. But a man like Ted Leo, with ties to punk underground from his younger days in Chisel, has always challenged what it is to be punk: His fusion of punk, dub, soul and Irish sensibility has given him a distinct voice, and he’s gone through various phases of experimentation. The Tyranny of Distance (2001) and Hearts of Oak (2003) are documents of the man discovering and exploring the depths of his character. Shake the Sheets (2004) seemed to hint of a struggle between the explorations of the past and understanding his present. With Living with the Living, it seems Leo has having finally made sense of his personal odyssey.
The album features Leo’s most meaty and confidant singing to date. The tracks are equally urgent, wistfully melodic and cleverly insightful. A dynamic confidence sparkles throughout: Leo throws in an expressive guitar solo, chanting vocals or an Irish bagpipe, without ever becoming overindulgent. His cohesive emotional tone allows him to unite the straightforward “Who Do You Love,” “The Sons of Cain,” the diverse “The Unwanted Things,” “Bomb.Repeat.Bomb” and the expansive “La Costa Brava” and “The Lost Brigade.” Most impressive is the profundity of Leo’s declarations. Lines like “Forget the fright and remember why we want to be brave/ and that there is something to save” and “Resolutions live and die but/ every memory of mine’s a song” display his defiant spirit as well as his reflective sensitivity.
With Living with the Living, Leo embodies the journey of an evolving artist — using his experiences to discover his own personal truths — and is eager to express his newfound wisdom. He lives the true ideals of punk: individualism, rebellion and discontent. Ultimately, Leo says it best: “Alone I’ve got to sing just to exist.”