Even though I bought this on the day it came out, I’m eternally grateful to Todd for sending it, both because it was the first CD I’d received that I could actually look forward to hearing and because it provided a second copy of this disc so that I could leave one copy in my player at home and another in my player at work. And yes, it really is that good. In fact, it’s better than that. It’s better than my explanation of how good it is and better than your idea of what a great album is. Ted Leo has created a masterful work which recalls his angular, jangly, edgy mod-pop with Chisel and proceeds further into the uncharted territories that 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance began exploring (Rx/Pharmacists, while an interesting album in its own right, has little to do with this discussion). Hearts of Oak is filled with unexpected surprises – the ridiculously funky basslines on the title track, the literary sensibilities which infuse every line, the joyful rock of “2nd Ave, 11AM,” the referential and reverent Two Tone tribute contained in “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” and the constant, persistent dance beats. “Bridges, Squares” gallops along like a giddy, playful horse trying to buck not only its rider but the entire system to boot; a triumphant, questioning pop song which poses only questions and ciphers without offering answers or solutions. As a whole, this album seems to examine what happens when political idealism and the best intentions run headlong into muddy realities. It simultaneously seems to acknowledge both the futility of and need for these convictions; to reconstruct its ideological structures as it deconstructs its philosophical foundation to examine the component parts. And what all this jibber jabber boils down to is that Hearts of Oak is so good that it is the early front-runner to top my list of the best records of 2003 and has been for over two months now. It will take an album of epic proportions and astounding brilliance to unseat it from its current position.