Since disbanding the punk-fueled band Chisel in the late '90s, Ted Leo has emerged as a pub-rock hero, championing everyone from the Specials to Thin Lizzy while also creating his own revved-up version of the real thing. He takes something you might not think you had any particular opinion on -- say, the Squeeze catalog, Stiff Records, Split Enz, and yet more Thin Lizzy -- and throws it all back in your face, reworded and individually stamped and rebirthed.
After last year's Billy Bragg-style EP Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead and his alarming vocal-cord blowout, Leo is back with a full-length that steals more from his days with Chisel: The songs are all marked by muscle and bluster, with only a few moments of expanded palette, like the Celtic-style soul of "Counting Down the Hours." It's not a revelation: Leo is at a place he's been before. But the strong points remain -- check the melody on the opening "Me & Mia" or the section on "Little Dawn" where he sings, "Stretch out your weary hand to mine, it's all right," before he seems to put a finger to his lips and go "Shhh," like it's no big deal. Leo is delivering old-school rock melodrama: All he asks is that you believe him for a little bit.