Ted Leo / Pharmacists
"Hearts Of Oak" CD (Lookout!)
Even though I bought this on the day it came out, I'm eternally grateful to Todd for sending it, both because it was the first CD I'd received that I could actually look forward to hearing and because it provided a second copy of this disc so that I could leave one copy in my player at home and another in my player at work. And yes, it really is that good. In fact, it's better than that. It's better than my explanation of how good it is and better than your idea of what a great album is. Ted Leo has created a masterful work which recalls his angular, jangly, edgy mod-pop with Chisel and proceeds further into the uncharted territories that 2001's "The Tyranny Of Distance" began exploring ("Rx/Pharmacists," while an interesting album in its own right, has little to do with this discussion). "Hearts Of Oak" is filled with unexpected surprises - the ridiculously funky basslines on the title track, the literary sensibilities which infuse every line, the joyful rock of "2nd Ave, 11AM," the referential and reverent Two Tone tribute contained in "Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?" and the constant, persistent dance beats. "Bridges, Squares" gallops along like a giddy, playful horse trying to buck not only its rider but the entire system to boot; a triumphant, questioning pop song which poses only questions and ciphers without offering answers or solutions. As a whole, this album seems to examine what happens when political idealism and the best intentions run headlong into muddy realities. It simultaneously seems to acknowledge both the futility of and need for these convictions; to reconstruct its ideological structures as it deconstructs its philosophical foundation to examine the component parts. And what all this jibber jabber boils down to is that "Hearts Of Oak" is so good that it is the early front-runner to top my list of the best records of 2003 and has been for over two months now. It will take an album of epic proportions and astounding brilliance to unseat it from its current position.
"Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" CD EP (Lookout!)
Listening to Ted Leo is like walking into a history class for a country that you've never heard of but recognize instinctively as your own. I spent the last 30 minutes trying to research what the hell the title track is about, and the best I can come up with is a farmers' rebellion in County Cork in the 1800s. And honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if that were indeed a starting point ... but based on how much ground Leo covers and how quickly he moves, the end isn't even in sight. "Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" is one of two songs that appears on Leo's full-length from last year ("Hearts Of Oak") but the version of "The High Party" which appears here - along with the other songs, including covers of Split Enz, The Jam and Ewan McColl - features little more instrumentation than a single electric guitar (cf. Billy Bragg), and that simply never fails to kill me. There are very few performers who can sustain interest with nothing more than a voice, an electric guitar and a story to tell. Ted Leo is one of them and I can't wait to hear what he comes up with next.