18 July 2008

excuses and half-truths and fortified wine

Several years ago, I was introduced to the Hold Steady by an old high school friend as follows:

"You'll like it. You were Catholic, right?"

And it certainly is true that Craig Finn draws on the rites and passages of the Catholic church like few other indie/mainstream artists do. It's all Catholicism and drugs for the Hold Steady boys, and addled nostalgia. On tape, Finn is like the mean-but-tortured boyfriend from 10 years ago whom you couldn't quite break away from even after you broke up. On stage, he is a completely different animal, absurdly pleased with his own verbal tics and foibles, with a look Our Local Photographer described as "my accountant turned rock star."

stay positive

"Stay Positive," like the previous three albums, continues the balls-to-the-wall barroom rocker tradition that earned the Hold Steady the "classic rock for indie kids" designation from Our Man in Tanzania, and Holly does make an appearance, in case you were worried that she might be written out.

"One for the Cutters" employs a harpsichord, something you'd be more likely to find on a Decemberists album than a Hold Steady album, and to great effect. The content of the song reminds me of a recent local tragedy where two high school kids were tortured and ultimately killed by a half-dozen more after being called to come over to a "party" at one of the big empty houses in one of our more wasteland-esque suburbs, made so by the crash of the property market. The story "One for the Cutters" tells is not that story, but it is a similar one, a story of the sociopath-ization (if you will) of youth.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that it's a rare band that still has me enthralled four albums in, but the Hold Steady is that band. The album has enough emo* hooks, e.g., in "Lord, I'm Discouraged," which features one of many ripping guitar solos by Tad Kubler, and in the last track, "Untitled," a not-to-be-missed mash-up of three or four unfinished songs. Oh, and J. Mascis shows up on banjo on a brutal but quiet little number called "Both Crosses," for those of you who might care.

20080120 4059

We saw them try out "Stay Positive" (the track) in January when we snuck up to Ybor City for a secret show, and it rocks even harder live than it does on the album. This band has a core fan base (seen here) that Finn (at far left) is probably referring to when he sings, "because the kids at our shows, they'll have kids of their own." They were a more diverse group of people than I would have expected to see, certainly, and I hope "Slapped Actress," a very self-aware piece about what it's like to be the ones on stage, wasn't entirely about that night ...

The bottom line is this: if you really liked the Hold Steady already, you will really like this album. If you didn't, what's wrong with you? give them a try, and then go get the album. It's at the big boxes for $9.99, and it is totally worth your hard-earned American dollars.

Lord, I'm Discouraged.mp3
Stay Positive.mp3

*I am too old (36) to really understand what that word means, so I use it to describe anything that makes me feel intensely nostalgic, or sad, or emotional... which may be exactly what it means, but, as I said, I don't know...


Ian M. Ireland said...

Well done, babe!

Ian M. Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

Very nice post.

I like this album a bit better than Boys and Girls. I feel like there's aging in the album narrative that feels less forced than Boys and Girls. Could just be that Boys and Girls lowered my expectations enough.

Stay positive is also a bit mellower in tone than the previous 3 - I've been using it as an intro to the band for my older friends (before hitting them with the wonderful bleakness of Separation Sunday).

My first comment on a blog ever.