The Hold Steady have made it to the big time. I know this not because they’ve played on the Letterman show (which they did while promoting their previous album Boys and Girls in America), but because they were made part of what passes for the comedy on the show.
And I guess when you connect the big sound of Craig Finn’s voice with his comparatively runty body, you could call that comedy.
But, aside from passing judgement on their choice of television promotional techniques, I’ll pass final judgement on the band’s music: This is a record that must be purchased, and I sentence The Hold Steady to continue making records of comparable greatness to Stay Positive until the time comes when I’m dead or my hearing has disappeared completely.
As is typical with this band’s albums, Stay Positive tells stories in a disjointed, Pulp-Fictiony style. Familiar names, places and incidents pop up throughout the record, and it also connects to the other three albums released since 2004.
Musically, Stay Positive starts out a little heavy-handed, but it quickly recovers and has becomes the best of their discography. Each track shows the bands rock roots, and this record has been connected stylistically to Bruce Springsteen.
The first single, Sequestered in Memphis was performed on Letterman last month, and you can have a listen for yourself.
Constructive Summer is the first track on the album, and I feel like it comes on a little too strong and simple, featuring a loud and repetitive sound that overpowers the vocals in some places. But after listing to the track a few times, the noise and repetition seems to fit the lyrics, which are about teenagers spending a summer getting drunk on the watertower night after night.
My favorite song, One for the Cutters, starts out with a melancholy harpsichord that’s reminiscent of the Doors, which compliments the sad tale of a nice girl who goes to school in a nice college town and ends up with her life getting dragged down in a toilet flush of grubby townies, bad lovers, murder and lies.