Tuesday, July 15th, 2008
Photo via Rough Trade
Some bands make concept records. The Hold Steady are making a concept career. With their debut Almost Killed Me, it seemed they were just writing about what they knew – adolescence, religion, rebellion and partying in Minneapolis – and they returned to many/most/all of those themes (as well as many of the characters) on the follow-up Separation Sunday. 2006’s Boys & Girls In America carried the groundwork laid by its predecessors onto a widescreen canvas, technicolour and jubilant and flush with the energy and potential (and folly) of youth.
And their latest Stay Positive, out today, picks up right where Boys & Girls left off and while sticking close to what they know and what they do best, still find ways to stretch out creatively – Franz Nicolai has discovered the other patches on his keyboard – and in the process sound like they’re laying the groundwork for the debut of The Hold Steady: The Rock Opera on Broadway. “Constructive Summer” is as grand an anthem as they’ve ever written, dedicated to the promise of a Summer of adventures and experiences of the sort that you only find in Hollywood coming-of-age stories but tempered by the sense that the window of opportunity for such adventures might be closing. By “One For The Cutters” – a Hold Steady murder ballad? – the consequences of youthful indiscretions no longer limited to hangovers or trips to the chillout tent, but the morgue. Despite the upbeat title, album number four is decidedly dark in places. Craig Finn is still majordomo of the party pit and the nights are still massive, but the partiers might feel a bit older and the harsh light of dawn feels a little closer than it has in the past. The title track is The Hold Steady as self-referential as they’ve ever been, tying together narrative threads from the past three albums into a single manifesto for their career thus far and despite the rather cautionary nature of the songs around it, offers an optimistic rallying point. “Our songs are sing-along songs” indeed.
But one of the strengths of the Hold Steady is that even if you choose not to listen too closely to Finn’s dense, mile-a-minute lyrics it’s still entirely possible to appreciate them on a purely visceral, force of rock level. As with each preceding record, Finn moves further away from the talking-singing style that he started out with and towards more conventional means of carrying the melody – this seems to force his voice to a lower, gruffer register that also contributes to the darker vibe of the record. But though some of the songs are more in the minor key to match their lyrics, much of Stay Positive is still the fist-pumping and rousing classic rock that sounds so familiar but which no one else seems to be doing or at least doing as well. They may be suggesting you think a bit about tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time tonight.
And just in case this sounds like it might be a (relative) bummer of a record, note that the three bonus tracks that appear on initial digipack-ed versions of the record are maybe the three most fun songs on the whole CD.
The Interface features the Hold Steady in a session, Paste has been running a series of studio diaries from the making of the record, Gothamist and The Wall Street Journal have interviews while Salon and New York Magazine have more expansive features. And, not surprisingly, the album is kicking aggregated ass at Metacritic.
With the last Rilo Kiley album put to bed (and I mean “last” as in “most recent” and not necessarily “final”, though it could well be that as well), detail have come forth about Jenny Lewis’ second solo record. Spin reports that it’s entitled Acid Tongue, due in September and features a bevy of guest stars including the aforementioned Mr Ward and Elvis Costello. Update: Release date appears to be September 9.
Feist’s upcoming appearance on Sesame Street has made its way to the internets. Brought to you by the number four, of course.
Also surfacing on the YouTube, Radiohead’s “look ma, no cameras!” laser-powered video for “House Of Cards”. They’re at the Molson Amphitheatre on August 15.
Video: Radiohead – “House Of Cards”
And not to be outdone with video premieres, Spinner has the newest from R.E.M., a clip which was born (created) right here in Toronto.
Video: R.E.M. – “Man-Sized Wreath”
The release date for The Verve’s Forth has been pushed back a week to August 26, but even so Music Snobbery has an advance copy and shares their thoughts, though the fact that they regard “Love Is Noise” in a positive light makes their opinions suspect.