Reviews The Hold Steady Stay Positive

The Hold Steady

Stay Positive

Stay Positive, the fourth album finds the Brooklyn by way of Minneapolis The Hold Steady trying to further their scope as musicians and lyricists while also tackling a greater challenge: aging gracefully. While there are stumbling points to the album, the band holds steady. It’s these falters though that may cause a rift in the unified scene that vocalist Craig Finn so often name checks. If Boys and Girls in America splintered The Hold Steady’s fan base, then this album, more radio friendly and polished, could create the dichotomy between cutting edge hipsters and casual music fans that call the group their own.

Departing further away from the angular and bare song writing found on Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday, this disc is full-bodied throughout. On previous records each instrument sounded detached from the others, playing in rough unison while Finn sputtered out narratives of folks who are, as writer Raymond Carver would say, “low rent tragedies.” Their newest album goes exactly against that grain, achieving the sound they’ve been aiming for since their inception. Each player weaves their instrument into a behemoth rock sound similar to the style that filled arenas through the sixties into the early eighties. While many of the tracks are straightforward rock without the decadence that made audiences swoon over bands like Led Zeppelin, there is a level of showmanship on this album where guitarist Tad Kubler isn’t boasting but celebrating the spirit of rock-n-roll. The track “Joke About Jamaica” acts like a three-minute build-up, finally peaking with a positive jam as Kulber solos with a talk box. Stay Positive also boasts more ballads and rock operas than any previous album, giving it a structure akin to Springsteen’s Born to Run.

The content of said songs is similar as well. “One for the Cutters” is about the hangers-on, the townies who become a part of small hometown history only to fade away with no regard from the other locals. As vocalist Craig Finn questions, “If one townie falls in the forest, does anyone notice?” “Lord, I’m Discouraged” and “Both Crosses” speak equally about looking to Christ for answers about problems that are beyond them.

Holly and Gideon are gone, departing from Finn’s repertoire two albums ago, but in their place still lie other, nameless, postmodern anti-heros who survive on the skids, practicing a routine of binging on alcohol and illegal substances to purge their desperation and Christian guilt. While Finn can weave a scene of these types, one that will keep the listener interested in the plot, it’s hard to feel sympathy for these characters like the way we would for those in a Lorrie Moore story or The Weakerthans' songs.

With most of the members closer to forty than thirty, The Hold Steady’s fourth album shows a band entering the realm of middle age can reflect on their teenage years, and all the time in between, while managing to Stay Positive.

8.6 / 10Scottie
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