I’m sure it’s clichÃ©d at this point in the game to say that Minneapolis’ best band since The Replacements, The Hold Steady, are the Midwest version of Bruce Springstreen and the E Street Band. Although they call now Brooklyn home, that comparison is old and used up, it frankly is the one description that more than fits. Whereas the Boss rambles on about the common man and the plight of New Jersey’s working class, Craig Finn’s pen kicks out tales of the love lost, women past their prime and week-long boozeathons.
Losing ones place in life and alcohol consumption on the grandest of scales are running themes throughout The Hold Steady’s discography. From Separation Sunday “Your Little Hood Rat Friend” to “Same Kooks” from the band’s 2006 “breakout” record Boys and Girls in America, the group has stuck to their bread and butter I.e. drugs, drink, forgettable sex and your basic everyday boredom.
With Stay Positive, it’s more of the same old song and dance but with this rock and roll band the same old same old is not the same as everyone else. The songs found on the album, and on every THS album for that matter, are not mere songs; no, the yarns that Craig Finn spin are epic, all consuming stories. Townies mysteriously die at a party (“when one townie falls in the forest/ does anyone notice?”) and the opening track “Constructive Summer” name checks a forever-mourned punk rock hero (“raise a toast to saint Joe Strummer/ I think he might have been our only decent teacher”). This is a fitting reference because the fierceness of punk shines rebelliously in Stay Positive. Guitars rip, drums pound and Finn’s vocal delivery are as smooth as a drunk uncle belting out ” Sweet Home Alabama” at your cousin’s wedding reception. The album’s first single, “Sequestered in Memphis” has a line that sums up the entire album, “I know I look tired/ but everything’s fried here in Memphis.” And for all the good tunes on Positive, there are at least two that make me think that the band may be a little fried.
All of the hype surrounding the band, the endless touring, opening shows for The Stones and The Boss may have made them a bit too confident (or comfortable) and has taken some of the silver from Finn’s devilish tongue. Power ballads like “Lord, I’m Disappointed” and the utterly boring “Both Crosses” are not something the band should focus on. They are not configured for or meant to record the pussy ass slow groove of the love song or lament; that is not their place in the musical world. The Hold Steady are best when they are going full steam ahead with a head full of Jack Daniel’s.
These boys are not likely to be seen playing a tour jointly sponsored by Hot Topic and Revlon guy liner. They don’t wear skinny jeans, they’re not alternative, goth, emo, glam or any other hip label bands get saddled with today. What they are is something as rare as a two headed cow or an honest politician; The Hold Steady are a straight up, no chaser rock n roll band and even though they may have screwed the pooch a time or two on Stay Positive, they’re still one of the best bands out there. Bar None…. Pun intended.