Release Date: Oct 3, 2006
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
The Hold Steady, from Brooklyn, make their intentions clear from the opening line of their third album: "There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right," slurs Craig Finn. "Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together." Over the course of 11 songs, Finn details those sad times, caused by too many drugs ("It started recreational, it ended kinda medical"), too much alcohol, or usually both: these are hangover songs, rather than party songs. But Finn's lyrics, combining precise observation with poetic sensibility - he is an astonishing writer - would mean less without the power of the band behind him.
Those looking for Separation Sunday "part two" may be disappointed by the huge sound Boys and Girls in America has (the band's moved to Vagrant); it's not much of a concept record, and it's not as Catholic, but all those struggles are in here just beneath the surface (and sometimes on top of it). One of the ballads here, "First Night," begins with a piano and an acoustic guitar lilting a rather loose melody that gives Craig Finn the support he needs to get out of his pent-up, novelistic, wordsmithing mouth. All of these characters are young, desperate, and fleeing from their inner fear, except for Holly who is wise enough to tell the protagonist that "words alone never could save us".
As Bruce Springsteen explores the gospel-folk of idol Woody Guthrie, a clutch of younger artists have instigated a free-for-all to be king of the grandiose, all-American rock hill. The two obvious front-runners are Vegas upstarts the Killers and Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis sluggers the Hold Steady. Burying the shimmering synth-pop of 2004's rousing multiplatinum debut, Hot Fuss, under a Born to Run-like wall of sound, the Killers assume the role of statement-making crusaders ("I woke on the roadside, in the land of the free ride"), while the Hold Steady prefer hacking it out in the barroom trenches of the Boss' "Jungleland." If neither band registers a definitive Born in the U.S.A.