Ted Leo & the Pharmacists released one of 2001's best albums. Tough as wire with hooks, power, and heart galore, The Tyranny of Distance is a modern-day punk classic -- hard to follow up convincingly, but Leo has cemented his place at the forefront of rock music in the year 2003 with his new record. Hearts of Oak is just as exciting and powerful as The Tyranny of Distance. Lyrically dense and literate, Leo tells a story like no one since Phil Lynott in the glory days of Thin Lizzy or maybe Kevin Rowland at the height of Dexy's peak. The Pharmacists' sound has elements of punk, mod, Irish folk, agit-funk, dub, and power pop played with controlled fury and topped by Leo's amazingly elastic vocals. The batch of songs on Hearts of Oak are all strong; the best are destined to be remembered the same way Leo remembers Thin Lizzy or the Specials. In fact, the record's best song is "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?," a touching ode to the Specials and the 2-Tone sound. The guitar breakdowns are naggingly catchy, the melody is instantly familiar, and when Leo hits the chorus and sings, "I asked Jerry He told Terry/Terry sang a song just for me/Lynval gave a message to me/Rhoda screamed and then she asked me/Where have all the rude boys gone?," you can't help but smile. "Hearts of Oak" is a towering, skitteringly funky song with loads of great percussion; "Dead Voices" comes closest to a straight pop song with the ringing power chords and Leo's impassioned falsetto; "The Crane Takes Flight" is an epic sea shanty with some whistling that doesn't suck; and "Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead" is a pounding rocker with some of Leo's best vocals and a cool ska ending. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists are playing the most exciting and original rock music around -- nobody else comes close. Hearts of Oak is a powerful and emotional record that you simply must own. Between this and The Tyranny of Distance, you are looking at a legend in the making.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra