Music Reviews

Ted Leo/Pharmacists

Hearts Of Oak


It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while, an album will come around that’s so good that I barely know where to start writing about it. I fear that I’m not capable of communicating how good the record is with mere words, and that anything I can write is just going to come off as the rantings of a babbling, gushing fool.

Hearts Of Oak, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, is just that kind of album.

The shorthand I’ve been using to describe Hearts Of Oak to friends is “post-Costello power pop,” but that barely scratches the surface. Yeah, there’s certainly a vibe of late ’70s/early ’80s razor-sharp angularity (think Costello, Joe Jackson and Paul Weller for prime examples) – not to mention some serious mod overtones – but Ted Leo’s brilliant songs are more than the sum of their influences.

There’s an urgency, a freshness to the record that simply crackles out of the speakers. It’s in the frenetic urgency of “I’m a Ghost,” in the irresistible hookiness of “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?,” in the sly lyrics of “The Anointed One” (which to these fiercely liberal ears sounds like an all-too-timely indictment of one George W. Bush), in the Gang Of Four-like grooves of the title track, and in so much more. Even the one track that doesn’t thrill me, the opening “Building Skyscrapers in the Basement,” sounds light-years apart from almost anything else out there.

In short, Hearts Of Oak is easily the best album of 2003 so far. Go, buy, love. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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