The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

I know, it’s been out for yonks, but I’ve been away. Considering The Hold Steady’s fourth album must have been written on a tour bus it’s a remarkably consistent, ambitious, and (as the title suggests) upbeat record.

The key to the HS thing is the marriage of Craig Finn’s lyrics and the Proper Rock Band. A lot is made of the Springsteen resemblance but this annoys me almost as much as people saying a band sounds like the Beatles. Which Beatles, exactly? And which Springsteen – the first three albums, Darkness on the Edge of Town or Nebraska, or Born in the USA? Bit different, right? Musically, it’s still big stuff, complete with guitar solos and now horns and harpsichord too, but unlike some of the band’s heroes (Paul Westerberg comes to mind, sadly) there’s no retreat into chugging bar band rock. In fact while there aren’t any obvious successors to ‘Stations’ or ‘Hoodrat’ the album is more inventive and consistently splendid than any of its predecessors.

Lyrically Finn is still spinning stories about parties and kids getting into trouble, but he now wants us to dig ourselves out of these ruts. Maybe boys and girls in America have such a sad time together, he suggests on bonus track ‘Two Handed Handshake’, because ‘it’s like we’re not even trying’. If any other US band told me to stay positive, build something this summer and make my own movies I’d tell them to get knotted, because I hate that whole bootstrap thing. With the Hold Steady, though, you know they know life’s rubbish enough as it is without us digging ourselves in further. And I can raise a glass to that. In fact considering the trite moan that they’re too old, well that’s how you get to know what you’re talking about. Ask Jarvis, circa Pulp Love Life and ‘Sunrise’.

I could write about this all night, but the Drowned In Sound review gets it pretty close, so you should go read that. If I’m not boring everyone with this at the end of the year then that means there are some cracking records still to come. Highly recommended, if you haven’t made your marmite love-hate decision about them yet. Two obvious stand-outs, a sort of grown-up ‘Celebrated Summer’, and the album’s closing track:

Constructive Summer‘ – The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

Slapped Actress‘ – The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

Buy here, while you still can… see you at the Roundhouse in October.


About jkneale

BothBarsOn's London correspondent.

Posted on August 4, 2008, in Album reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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