The Hold Steady
Well, now that that shit storm has blown over, lets review us some Hold Steady. P.o.l.a.r.i.z.i.n.g. That word is used more often than other accurate descriptors such as ‘arena rock’, ‘storyteller’ or ‘throwback’ when discussing the band. What’s funny is that it’s not like they’re talking about molestation, incest or suicide (see Xiu Xiu) and they most definitely aren’t as musically creative (some say retarded) as The Fiery Furnaces. It’s something else, something that has to do with, well, what they’re doing. People have their beef with the fact that The Hold Steady tell stories—fictional stories that center on two downtrodden girl figures. Craig Finn spins yarns mixing sex, locales, drugs, religion and music to try and create what feels like a boatload of nostalgia for his listeners—many of whom are slapping the band with a big Gimmick sticker because of it. For two wonderful articles expressing feelings at opposite ends of the spectrum, go here and here. “But Andrew, we wan’t your opinion of The Hold Steady.” Is this another indie rock band with fifteen minutes in the sun or is this the real ass-rocking deal? Well, gather round kiddies.
I’ll say it loud and clear—FRENCH KISS FUCKING ROCKS. Really, I don’t think you know how many great bands are on this label (those of you who don’t live, breath and eat this type of thing…and there’s nothing wrong with that). Everyone from indie rock iconoclasts Les Savy Fav to personal favorites of mine, the wicked Smoke and Smoke, have been causing shit on this label for a long time, making up one of the most talented (and rowdy) rock and roll rosters in today’s day and age. So, obviously the label is somewhat particular to who they sign (can you see where I’m heading?).
For those who cry gimmickry I have one thing to say. Your beef stems from the fact that Craig Finn is tricking us into feeling nostalgic about something that never really happened (let alone to us)? Hmm. I’m sorry but if you own any odd record released since, well, ever, you are contradicting yourself. What the fuck are The Decemberists doing? Belle and Sebastian? The Jesus Lizard? Leonard Cohen? Brian Eno? AC/DC?! If you listen to any one of the aforementioned artists (or any shade of grey in between) then shut your hole, because fiction is fundamental to music in the same way that it is to print. I don’t care if the protagonists and events in Separation Sunday are straight outta Finn’s head, because when they are accompanied by the arena rocking instrumentals the whole thing is an experience that no rock fan should miss this summer (or what’s left of it anyway). OK, a little on the songs.
“Hornets! Hornets!” begins the album with big rock guitar (the biggest) and throbbing organ, with Finn speak/sing-spit/garbling all over the song about drugs and small talk. We’re introduced to characters and references to Kate Bush but you really pick up on most of these things on subsequent listens. Every song is so chalk full of quick little lyrical tricks and head turners that you’ll be discovering things long after your initial listen. But unlike heady albums where, once you discover the tricks to the songs they sometimes become somewhat stagnant, here that does not apply. The guitars on Separation Sunday will be rocking your boat for repeated listens (as on “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” or really, any song here). “Banging Camp” is about guess what, but it sounds like a visceral arena anthem. “Crucifixion Cruise” is the second to last number on this album full of psudo-stadium rockers. It features lone organ tones and Finn’s weary voice and it is the enlightening dénouement of the album, leading into closer “How a Resurrection Really Feels”—Separation Sundays hangover breakfast, complete with toast and orange juice. Totally redeeming.
The Hold Steady have, along with a handful of other like minded artists, resurrected rock and roll, regardless of the fashion in which they have done it. I know that there is a degree of manipulation going on here, but fuck it. I’ll willfully subject myself to it anytime. In fact, I feel like doing it right now.
- Andrew Iliadis