The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Record Label: Vagrant Records
Release Date: July 15, 2008
I started off about a year and a half ago with this band's 2006 album, Boys and Girls in America. I should've gotten into them long before, but it seems like I wasn't paying attention to solid music; over my head in being different with anything experimental. It doesn't matter if you took it up the taste earlier -- It's a bit late now, because whether or not you're already prepared, the time is now for The Hold Steady's new album, and my top summer jammer, Stay Positive.
The men of THS have a certain attitude about them that I really enjoy, and that you don't find from a lot of artists. The reason? They're old. This band started six years ago and Craig Finn, guitar/singer/songwriter was 31 back then. I particularly enjoy this band for a reason that has recently been made clear to me as the reason for my enjoyment of other bands -- every song is telling an intricate enough story that I want to follow. I listen intently to hear the repeated themes, just as I would if this were a series of novels with the lyricist as an author. In a lot of ways, he is. But when this combines with heavy, almost classic riffs along with a keyboard and a clean, tight rhythm section, the album becomes one of non-stop movement, evoking emotions and making you pay attention the way rock music should.
The album opens with a track that begs you to continue, "Constructive Summer." A simple story of the best laid plans of a group of boys from a small town, setting a goal for their summer months that matters to them, as much as it may not to someone with a different definition of what it means to "build something." A suggestive breakdown seems to depend on someone to think little of the group behind the plan, lashing subtly at the moralistic views of so-called disagreers, as well as paying tribute to The Clash, verbally and musically. The following track, "Sequestered in Memphis", takes two major points of the band's style into the first single: a conversation, and a story.
Throughout the repertoire of the band, common themes include classic literature, the music scene, and parties, but not in the way that Andrew W.K. sings about parties. The third track, opening with the pleasant strumming of a mandolin-like instrument I can't place, tells the chaos of an occurrence in which a college girl decided to try hanging out with the townies, and the differences that separate the groups. The Hold Steady spend time looking at the downside of certain stories, but as the album dictates, they feel the true need of the current scene is that bands "Stay Positive," because the title track predicts that someday the "kids at their shows will have kids of their own." Lines like that make me feel like I'm listening to music while growing up, instead of in an attempt to keep from it. For me, that is the most important part about this album -- it lays the lines for a show that you don't have to grow out of, rather, one that comfortably becomes part of your life.
Interjection for explanation: My mother went to a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert last week, and some kind of Bachman Turner Overdrive reunion type thing last month. For years, she did nothing of the sort. Her only connection to these artists would be when I spun the old vinyl or when she listened to them on a classic rock station. The Hold Steady play the kind of music and holds the kind of shows that make me feel like there won't be that kind of a gap for me; no twenty years of listening to the old hits waiting for the aging artists to come back and try it again somewhere outside, rather than a smoky bar.
The album comes to a close with further character studies of common figures, models, actresses, and college girls. Version details cause a difference in the bonus tracks you may obtain, but the studio version of "Ask Her for Some Adderall" is a long awaited gem for fans, and an example of the manic matters that can come out in a conversation within the lyrics. The three parts of the bonus track continue the movement and close out the album strong. In the end, this summer necessity is an album of rock and roll summer jams that delivers.
this was one of the few albums i was genuinely excited about this year. somehow missed this review before now. but yeah, solid album. i would love to see gasoline heart opening for these guys on a tour.