I can always tell how much I will spin an album following its first listen. That feeling I had after listening to Hearts of Oak was immeasurable. "The Ballad of the Sin-Eaters" is a song that will instantly make you shake your ass and shout the words even though you don't know them yet because you're listening to it the first time. Standout tracks include their raucous tribute to the Specials, "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone," "I'm a Ghost," and the Talking Heads-ish title track with yelpy vocals, a smooth bassline, and erratic guitars. While the album is not incredibly impressive on the technical front, the songwriting along with the clever lyrics, have plenty of variation to contribute tons of substance to this otherwise mindlessly fun album.
Wanna have fun? Wanna dance? Want a record that can be, not only enjoyable to listen to, but the perfect record that can still be fun, even when you aren't paying much attention to it? Well this record is it. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have followed up their 2001 full length, Tyranny of Distance with Hearts of Oak, a record that snuck it's way into my top 10 of 2003 so far. This record has an almost classic rock feel at times, which is not a bad thing at all. The guitar solos on this record are nothing technical but incredibly fun and fitting. If you want the perfect background record to your next party, or your next night on the town, pick this up. If you want a record you can sit around and be chill with, pick this up. In any case that might come up, pick this up.
[NOTE: Okay, I'll admit it. I'm way late. Hearts of Oak came out in February and now, half way into May, I'm finally sitting down to write this. Well, as they say, "better late than never," right?]
So, all the hype is coming from New York City these days. There, you will find such indie rock favorites such as The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Rapture, so on, et cetera. Well, just take "the Turnpike" south to the land of full-service-only gas stations, the Boss and boardwalk cheesteaks with vinegar fries (yes, Jersey), and you'll find yourself an exciting rock band that is just shying away from the public eye: Ted Leo/Pharmacists.
There's no gimmick with Ted Leo/Pharmacists, they're not the newest vintage "garage-rock" duo, spacey instrumental drone or danceable electro clash. They play honest, organic rock and roll in a classic style that they have made uniquely their own.
Many awesome records have been in my stereo this year, but none have secured as permanent a home in the CD deck as Hearts of Oak. It is an incredibly fun and catchy album, but it never gets tired or bland. As some may put it, Hearts of Oak has a "high replay value".
There is something charming about Ted Leo's vocals, whether its his singing "oo ee oo ee oo" falsetto, or screaming, "go!" he carries his political and social commentary with a touch of defiance; still never sounding confrontational. With erudite wording and occasional slippage into a foreign language, Leo reveals that Hearts of Oak is not a collection of one-dimensional pop songs. On the hip-shaking, hand-clapping, sing-spoken song "Ballad of The Sin Eater", Dave Lerner puts down a fuzzy bass line so Leo can chant about his odyssey around the world where he witnesses the widespread un-American sentiment (How's that for prophetic?). With the esoteric literary and cultural references i.e. "I never believed in T.E. Lawrence, so how the hell could I believe in Beau Gest?" you many want to keep a encyclopedia nearby. But don't be quick to throw the word "pretentious" around, this stuff actually has context.
Musically, the band is incredibly tight. On, the title track, drummer Chris Wilson demonstrates that drum fills can sound amazing without being fancy. With keyboards and organs, Dorian Garry gives the music a tinge of early-Costello (see: "Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead"). On "Where have all the Rude Boys Gone?" Garry's restrained vocals under Leo's mania provide a perfect contrast.
Contained within many of the songs, lay musical nuggets that reveal the band's proficiency with including the sounds of other genres. In "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" a noisy, feedback solo brings Sonic Youth to mind, while the ska breakdown on "Bridges and Squares" assures veteran listeners that Leo hasn't forgotten his days in Chisel.
If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and grab Hearts of Oak. This album will both satisfy those looking for a good time as well as those who are looking content in their rock and roll.
9.0 / 10
Reviewed by 3 writers.
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