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Articles and Reviews: MUSIC
Stay Positive by The Hold Steady (Rough Trade)
The Hold Steady’s fourth album is their most well produced to date. That said, for all its vaulting classic rock ambition, it doesn’t forget its origins in the garage. Grappling with a loose theme of what rock music can mean in middle age, and a looser storyline about a careless college girl’s witnessing of a boy’s murder by crucifixion, frontman Craig Finn has now learned how not to crowd the band out when venting his verbal torrents. A good thing too, since Finn is not the super-cinematic wordsmith, a veritable latter-day, Beat-descended lyrical visionary that he’s talked up as being in certain quarters: he repeats himself too much for that (although he claims it’s a mnemonic reiteration device, copped from rap) and his fragmented narrative threads are too vague to sustain interest, and do not commensurately reward the time spent trying to decipher them.
Instead, we can savour the real strengths of this outfit, honed over a year of non-stop touring: a trip-wire tight rhythm section; a relentlessly riffing and chugging guitarist for whom the phrase ‘stadium rock in your basement’ might have been coined; all garnished by colourful keyboard thrills and frills. They are a smoking live act, one of the best on the boards at the moment, and that still translates well to this platter. Plus, we know Finn’s heart is in the right place: ‘Let’s raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer/I think he may have been our only decent teacher.’
First published in Magill, September/October 2008