Then: This was the first year I voted in Pazz and Jop. (It was around this time that I came to terms with the idea that I was, in fact, a rock critic. Of sorts.) And, after the high of 2002, this was the weakest recent year of music for me. Looking over my list, I see albums that aren’t exactly bad, but I haven’t played them for years either. My choice at the time, Blur’s Think Tank (Virgin) is still pretty decent, but the bad stuff (like “Crazy Beat”) sticks out more egregiously nowadays, and the whole project seems more a dry run for Gorillaz’s Demon Days. Still, though, one of the best live shows I ever saw.
Now: Hearts of Oak (Lookout) by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists isn’t perfect, either. But the best songs – “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone,” “The High Party,” “The Ballad of the Sin Eater,” among others – are rock anthems that genuinely try to get at real life, especially the claustrophobically politicized world of which we had just begun to realize, oh shit, this is the way things are now. The fact that Leo conveyed all this while still making music that conveyed joy and exhilaration was his way of showing that there may actually be a way out.