“You didn’t think they could hate you now, did ya?”

“You didn’t think they could hate you now, did ya?”

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

Ted Leo And The Pharmacists visited our office again recently—there will be video soon!—and reminded me (not with words, that would be gauche) what a stunner 2003’s Hearts Of Oak is. It’s the rare album that doesn’t sound the slightest bit dated to me 10 years later, and the even rarer album that I never feel tired of, because I hear something new every time. This week it was “The Ballad Of The Sin Eater,” a long, intense, verbose, and fantastic journey—in true “ballad of” fashion—of a narrator adrift in a world of xenophobic, possibly righteous anger. As with lots of Leo’s songs, it’s not easy to unpack—a “sin eater” was a person who ritualistically “ate” the sins of a dying person so that person could be absolved before dying, but they’re not referred to directly in the song. Instead, it’s a travelogue of self-searching that takes the narrator from England to Ireland to Ibiza to Russia, where he’s hated at every turn. For those not interested in learning geography or how the rest of the world might feel about Americans, “Sin Eater” also features a hip-shaking beat and a sing-along chorus (“You didn’t think they could hate you now, did ya?”) that even haters of reference-rock (“I never believed in T.E. Lawrence / So how the hell could I believe in Beau Geste?”) should be able to get behind. Leo would probably like us to study the lyrics at least a bit, but you could also dance to it. Ideal world: Do both.

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