French Fries and Fruit Flies

Not Yesterday Once More

Led by black Irishman Phil Lynott, blue-collar rockers Thin Lizzy pre-dated punk and were therefore rendered irrelevant by it; later, outsider punks Costello and the Jam crossed over into literate pop. The perfectionist Pharmacists—drummer Chris Wilson, bassist Dave Lerner, and organist-pianist Dorien Garry—meticulously groom these roots, entwining snappy, reggae-cut rhythms with shamrock-ringed guitar treble. The nails-on-blackboard violin, droning bass, and carefree whistling of "The Crane Takes Flight" burst into fleeting chord-kicks and melodramatic melody; "Hearts of Oak" grooves like "Watching the Detectives" at twice the speed; and "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" jabbers gaily, with menacing undertones.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists engage in un-American activities.
photo: Courtesy Lookout! Records
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists engage in un-American activities.

Leo, quick-witted readers will notice, dreams not of space or insects but a brotherhood of man. In "The Ballad of the Sin Eater" he travels the world—Belfast, San Sebastian, "Mother Russia," Damascus, Kigali—and, back home in Jersey (or is it Sierra Leone, he wonders—shit, I thought I lived in a bad neighborhood), spits at his fellow Americans: "They hate you, they hate you 'cause you're guilty." Let him explain in "The High Party": "I'm looking at another day to find that I've got nothing to say/or I'm looking for another way to process what happened on that birthday"—Leo was born on September 11. The "shitty war to fight for Babylon" he feared has, of course, begun. (Those Irish-folk touches sound all the more poetic for coming from a society beset by religious violence.) Who are we to blame him if he's nostalgic for last millennium?

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