December 21, 2008

Album Review: The Hold Steady- Stay Positive

Over the summer The Hold Steady released their 4th full-length album Stay Positive. I would have given my review back then but I didn’t have a blog yet and I was still jamming to (insert insipid singer/celebrity/Jonas brother) ‘s album, anyway. So here’s my review…now.

The Hold Steady has done for Minnesota what Bruce Springsteen did for New Jersey, but on a much, much smaller scale. I mean, have you heard of them? Well, you should know them, they rock. Back in 2004 they burst on the scene with the mostly live Almost Killed Me and ever since they solidified themselves as the best bar band in America. With songs filled with questionable women, and catholic guilt The Hold Steady transplant the young heroes from Springsteen ballads over to the twin cities and they are doing much worse than they were back in Jersey. If you were to judge Minneapolis just by the sex, drug, and violence filled songs of THS, you would think it was Detroit or something.

Craig Finn belts out his bombastic, ambivalent lyrics as if he had a mouth full of marbles and then got hit in the face with a beer bottle. The band’s bravado and reputation rest on Finn’s whiskey soaked shoulders and he backs it up with a staring-up-from-the-gutter lyrical storytelling that is reminiscent of Bukowski and Tom Waits. The band brings with it a sound of Thin Lizzy and Springsteen playing at a frat party or in a garage next door. THS are as fun as they sound and they really, really do rock. If the Replacements were your best friend from Minnesota, The Hold Steady are the drunk, degenerate friend of the Replacements that you wish they didn’t always bring over to your parties.

For fans of the Hold Steady the words “polished” and “highly produced” for an album of theirs would be a signal of the end, a jumping of the shark, a nuking of the fridge, if you will. To worry is understandable. Same thing happened with Liz Phair when she went corporate with her album… Liz Phair. But I am here to tell you there is no need to worry. They didn't sell out. Just as Liz Phair fans must have been relived when they saw there was a track titled H.W.C., you can be assured that Stay Positive doesn’t deliver a water downed THS, but pours us a double whiskey, coke, no ice.

Stay Positive starts off with a guitar smokin' Constructive Summer, about drinking on a water tower, and it doesn’t look back. Unlike their previous efforts, though, they do take a breath for a couple of tracks and slow it down for some melancholic reflection in, Lord, I’m Discouraged and Both Crosses. But overall, the entire album is meant to be played in a dive bar at full volume with people singing along off key and intoxicated girls dancing in front of the speakers. I personally can’t get enough of Sequestered in Memphis, about spending the night with a wanted girl, and the brazen Slapped Actress. I love these songs by the titles alone.

So if you are a old fan of The Hold Steady you probably have this album already. But If you haven’t gotten it yet because you’re a music snob bastard, I’m telling you now, get it. A good outcome that comes from a more polished sound is the band being more accessible to those that have not heard of THS yet. So if you want to take a taste test of The Hold Steady this is a good album to start with.

Bottom line, rock isn’t dead. Nickleback didn’t kill it. It’s alive and well, singing, drinking and living with a strung out girl in St. Paul.

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