Release Date: Jul 15, 2008
Record label: Vagrant
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Still tinkling their Born to Run pianos and revving their E Street guitars on album number four, the Hold Steady remain the pot-bellied everymen to Bruce Springsteen's handsome everyman. But this time around, they have been rummaging in the music chest. Harpsichords, mandolins and theremins add new colours to songs about murder and memory that weave together details mundane and mysterious - such as Sequestered in Memphis, where two strangers go back to "some place where she cat-sits" before an ominous incident occurs.
After the Hold Steady’s fourth album, Stay Positive, leaked, Vagrant streamed it through MySpace and released it through iTunes a full month early. It seemed like a move more fit for the EMIs and the Coldplays of the world, but the action revealed just how big everyone expects the Hold Steady to be. They’re ready for the prime time. They're ready for Middle America.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Released in 2008, Stay Positive is the most sophisticated and erudite THS have ever sounded, and that's a mixed blessing. Where every song on previous sets felt unfinished and open-ended, these tracks are sheen-polished and almost slick. They reveal growth and studio expertise but also a kind of laziness. These 12 songs are full of near-cinematic rock dynamism and expertly rendered sonic effects.
One of America’s best bands kicks out a new batch of positive jamsCraig Finn just might be the most self-aware frontman in rock ’n’ roll. “Our songs are sing-along songs,” he declares on Stay Positive’s opener “Constructive Summer,” and a couple verses later he shows instead of tells. “Me and my friends are like,” begins the line, before Finn is joined by backing vocals for “double whiskey, coke, no ice.” It’s a moment that begs for a full room’s worth of shouting as uniting as “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” during that R.E.M.