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Askew Review 15

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- Hearts of Oak (Lookout) I was anxious to take a listen to Hearts of Oak the second Denis slapped it in front of me.  The cover features 4 guys dressed in what look like Irish soccer jerseys.  The fella in the front (I assume this is Ted Leo) looks like a younger, handsomer version of Prince Charles, and I’m guessing the 3 Indie Rock-looking schlubs behind him are the Pharmacists.  It’s slightly disconcerting for some reason, yet I still kind of like it.  I ended up feeling pretty much the same way about the actual CD, but I have to say that this disc really perplexes the fuck outta me.  I appreciate so much of it, yet I don’t feel all that compelled to listen to it repeatedly.  Hearts of Oak is the most un-punk sounding Lookout! release I’ve ever heard, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.  Ted Leo writes catchy, intelligent, and at times complex and odd pop songs.  Occasionally he’s a dead ringer for vintage Joe Jackson (‘Member him?  He’s underrated as all get out, but that’s another discussion) on snappy numbers like “The High Party” and “Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead.”  And while I’m dwelling on old favorites, it sounds like he lifted the main guitar parts from Billy Bragg’s “The Marriage” and used them on “First To Finish, Last To Start,” yet I’m not as bothered by that as I normally would be because it ends up sounding cool.   Other highlights for me here include “The Anointed One” (hauntingly smooth ditty that eventually builds up some steam about being disillusioned with an old friend) and the distorted, bass-driven “The Ballad of the Sin Eater,” which speaks in a unique voice about being the Hated American.  “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” is a lament about the disappearance of that great 2 Tone ska sound, and the coda at the end about Terry, Jerry, Lynvall and Rhoda is absolute joy.  Bottom line here is that there is just no fuckin’ way you can pigeonhole this disc as one thing or another, and I love that.  But while my head is telling me this is great stuff, my soul is saying “ehh…” and I’m just not feeling it.  Still, there’s enough interesting stuff here that I’d recommend you check this out and decide for yourself if ol’ Ted Leo’s really something special. –Ben Hunter



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