Aug 8, 2008

Stay Positive-The Hold Steady

It would be a severe miscalculation to regard The Hold Steady as just a 'bar band made good'. As a band that writes a few good licks and nothing more. Yes, their music is reasonably uncomplicated. Yes, it appeals to the capacity for all of us bang our heads every now and again. But, there is so much more. There are dynamite guitar solos, hook laden choruses, power drumming and above all, intelligent and truth ridden lyrics by the one and only Craig Finn. As an added bonus, you get the unique Finn delivery. Vocals sit somewhere between speak and sing, giving us all a joy ride to remember. Yes, peoples, The Hold Steady are an every person band. They speak our language and if we are willing to embrace it, then the rewards are huge. For in this vast musical landscape there is room for a Radiohead as well as a Hold Steady.

"Stay Positive" might just be this band's best work, I believe. It's filled to the brim with powerful anthems, sweat dripping ballads and more importantly, fun. With a capital F. This album bursts into the stratosphere with "Constructive Summer", a song born for all the air guitarists that exist. It rocks and rolls like the great ones used to, before giving away to "Sequestered In Memphis", which continues the flavour of heavy duty rocking. There are other moments of high voltage power. "Magazines" is an adrenalin rush, as is the wonderful title track. A couple of the tracks come off as slightly formulaic, such as the straight forward "Navy Sheets", but where this band absolutely soars are on some of the more layered and contemplative tracks. One of the best of these is definitely "One For The Cutters", a superb song of small town America. Its harpischord intro is just superb, as is the piano lines running through out. Melodies don't come much better then what is on display here. "Lord, I'm Discouraged" is just as good, a rambling wreck of a song that simply aches with heart. In constant listening to this album though, I think my two absolute favourites now sit at the end of the album. "Joke About Jamaica" is ominous in its content, a succulent slice of dramatic rock, whilst "Slapped Actress" is a golden piece of rock and roll cake. Absolutely delicious. Honestly, this band has never sounded better. Guitars hum and buzz, drumming is driving and the piano is almost classically good. Sitting on top of this is the mastery of Finn. His throaty, almost spoken roar is perfectly suited to the music. His tales are basic of nature, but written with a massive heart and truth. They are stories of singing along to the radio, finding yourself in trouble, living, loving, sadness and pain. Yet there is an eternal optimistic strain running through out the album. The Hold Steady are unashamedly a Rock band. They play hard and ask you take the ride with them. Sweet, sweet Rock and Roll. Punch your hands in the air if you agree.

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