Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

SXSW Records

Phases and Stages

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

Hearts of Oak (Lookout!) This is pop music custom-made for its time, fondly recalling touchstones of the past to steel you against an uncertain future. Jersey-bred punk veteran Ted Leo plays like a well-read barstool philosopher, and the Pharmacists back him with the nut-tight energy of the Attractions. While this isn't a 9/11 album, it's impossible to hear Hearts of Oak without thinking of that backdrop. The most overt nod may be the album's opener, "Building Skyscrapers in the Basement." The eerie Celtic dirge is removed from the rest of the album by its mournful tone, but Leo's pivotal lyric, "I know some things I'd rather not, like the time ahead is all you've got," feels like a directive to revel in the elusive, pop-fueled release that follows. "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" pines for the interracial solidarity exemplified by 2tone ska legends the Specials, while also rocking with the same fiery sense of purpose that informed Costello and the Clash. "The Ballad of the Sin Eater" uses a war-zone travelogue to answer the comfortably American question, "Why do they hate us so much?" before exploding in a bullet hail of percussion. While the frenetic punk of "2nd Ave, 11AM" celebrates the unknowingness of free thought over lock-step zealotry, Leo acknowledges a more spiritual kind of redemption in "First to Finish, Last to Start," a gospel-flavored homage to the Impressions' "People Get Ready." Any rock album that tackles such a wide spectrum without compromising the music deserves respect. (Emo's Jr., Thursday, March 13, 1am)

****

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