Monday, August 04, 2008

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls In America was one of my favorite albums of 2006. So, their follow-up was highly anticipated because I thought Boys and Girls was highly accessible and the album The Killers had tried to make (and failed) with Sam's Town. Basically, it seemed that The Hold Steady was hitting their stride. Let me jog the memory about what I said about the previous album:
'Boys and Girls in America' is an achievement in Rock music. Finn creates drama, suspense, and genuine feeling on this record. Stand-out tracks include: Chips Ahoy, Hot Soft Light, and Massive Nights (and check out the great harmonica solo on the closing track 'Southtown Girls'). This record should be welcomed with open arms for one reason: it's REAL rock & roll for the current generation. Finn explains in both first, and third person the meaning of growing up here and now in suburbia. He is filled with angst, but brushes it off with equal parts humor and a band that really knows how to rock out. This doesn't have to be considered an "indie" record for it to be "cool" or "hip." With any moniker, it's just damn good.

Whew. I quoted myself again. Back to the album at hand. Stay Positive is another achievement. While it's still distinctly from The Hold Steady brand it's slightly different than the aforementioned "Boys and Girls" album. The keyboards are toned down a bit and there are less sing-along songs with booming choruses that are endlessly catchy. One of the album's strengths is also one of it's flaws. These songs are way more polished and put through the studio machine than any previous effort. Part of The Hold Steady's allure is their rough-around-the-edges spontaneity. The feeling that anything could happen and that the albums cuts were just the tip of the iceberg when compared to the live show. The majority of Stay Positive's songs feel finished, framed, and ready to be digested by the fans. The only problem with this is the fact that I don't want this polish from this band. I want some grit. I want the frayed corners. I want to hear songs that are just on the edge of being perfected. Not only does it effect the songs, it goes against the grain of what The Hold Steady represent and where they've come from. This was no more evident than when I saw them in concert here in L.A. on July 30th at Avalon. I had seen them last year when they played at The El Rey theater, and that previous show was quite a bit better for various reasons. They ran through almost all of the new album last week, and there were only a couple songs I found myself singing along and yelling loudly during the choruses. In contrast, when a song like "Chips Ahoy" or "Boys and Girls In America" were played I was going nuts. Not only because they were familiar, but because there was just a different energy from everyone in the room including the band. So, while the concert was great, it just reaffirmed my belief that this newest album may be seen as a lesser achievement than their previous work.

"Sequestered in Memphis"

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