20080820

Positive Reinforcement : The Hold Steady


I'll start by telling you that I'm by no means an expert on The Hold Steady. I never owned their first 7" EP from back in '04 (or their first two full-lengths, for that matter). I don't have their cute little logo tattooed anywhere on my body, nor have I fist-pumped along with them from the front section between the stage and the drunken mosh pit. Other than singer Craig Finn (who's mentioned in just about every music publication known to man), I couldn't name another band member. I'd be lying if I told you that this public obsession with The Hold Steady didn't piss me off just a little.

Have you heard? The Hold Steady is the greatest and best band in the world. Because being uncool is the new cool. Also, 8 years ago, you might get ridiculed if you sounded like the second coming of Bruce Springsteen. Today, you're idolized (read also: the Killers, The National). Being drunk is cool. Rhyming lyrics are occasionally cool, but more often uncool. Matching tailored grayscale suits on stage is so 2 years ago. Now, the jacket should be off, the tie loosened, the shirttails untucked.

Craig Finn is a master writer of prose. I will not argue with this fact. I will also not argue that there are more than a few moments on Stay Positive that my head jerked up from whatever I was doing and I said aloud, "iiinnnteresting." (Often because of the balls-out guitar solos or hookish riffs, which are plentiful.) Certainly I can relate to Craig writing about struggling with faith (or any of myriad religious imagery), girls with daddy issues, physically abused friends, hometowns and old pals, or irony in the "scene". I can enjoy the piano in "Yeah, Sapphire" and the Bon Jovi-esque 12-string on "Both Crosses". I really can be engaged in this record, but more often than not I find myself straying. Lyrically very good. But aside from a few bright spots ("Joke About Jamaica"), it's vocally very poor, despite Finn's apparently taking vocal lessons prior to recording. And I just can't get behind that. I find myself really enjoying on ly small portions of individual songs (the second half of "Slapped Actress"), and not the entire thing.

But I do digress. Somehow, this record is important to me. The hype is irritating, but The Hold Steady are impossible to write off like that. If music was 100% about sweat-slicked guitar riffs, passion and raw lyrics, I'd be the first in line. They are certainly America's biggest and best bar band for intelligent geeks and reformed punks. I just need a little bit more than that.

Listen:
Magazines
Lord, I'm Discouraged
[from Stay Positive|buy]

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