Ted Leo swivels his hips like a young Elvis P. and sneers like a younger Elvis C. on his latest album, Hearts of Oak, pounding the pulpit and sounding the alarm. Flipping through a history book while rocketing into the future, Leo still can't quite escape what's going on right freaking now. Such as: There's another Desert Storm brewing, and Leo sees "no end in sight to this darkening night," "calling on all majors to end this general despair" on "Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead." But Leo knows how to talk about important issues without ever sounding like he's trying to, always waiting with a spoonful of sugar to help his medicine go down.
It helps that Leo is one of the few songwriters who can use five-cent words such as "ossify" and "apostasy" in a chorus, as he does on "Bridges, Squares," and not come off as a square. And that he's able to dial up memories of the Jam, Billy Bragg, and the Clash, but smart enough to hang up before anyone can complete the trace. Helps even more that he's got a full-time band now -- as opposed to the committee that showed up on 2001's The Tyranny of Distance. Leo's Pharmacists keep the beat elastic and the rest spastic. On Hearts of Oak, Leo listens to the "Dead Voices," then becomes one on "I'm a Ghost." But make no mistake: This album is made for the living, a reminder of all that music used to be and all that it could be again.