Artist: The Hold Steady
Album: Stay Positive
Comments: The Brooklyn-based band The Hold Steady is a lot like the Boston-based television series Cheers. A hard-working man's concept that is very familiar, often touching on irreverent topics but every so often makes profound statements, separating the two from being run of the mill. These moments are what make them great.
I don't know if The Hold Steady's new album Stay Positive establishes or continues this illusive greatness that eludes many promising bands, but it doesn't really matter. I find myself consistently amazed, touched and enamored with what I am hearing on this album. Whether it's the roaring intro on "Constructive Summer," the chanting loveliness on "Sequestered in Memphis," lead singer Craig Finn's infatuation with Christ, a great piano hook on countless songs, or what is becoming my favorite guitar solo on "Lord, I'm Discouraged," The Hold Steady is getting closer to that moment of rock and roll perfection.
Close, but not there yet. While it is no chore to listen to the whole album front to back, there are some boring moments. The middle is a little hollow to me, but, hey, even donuts have holes (See "Yeah Sapphire" and "Navy Sheets"). "Yeah Sapphire" turns me off because it lacks the patented hooks or clever lyrics synonymous with Finn's pen. "Navy Sheets" avoids the lyrical lameness, but the electric keyboard sounds like The Hold Steady is trying to sell some records. I understand that making a sound outside the band's comfort zone like "Navy Sheets" is needed for growth, but I just didn't dig the tune. The same goes for the talk-box solo on "Joke About Jamaica."
But enough with the objectivity, let's get back to how awesome this album is.
Stay Positive touches upon different stages in life and really reflects the maturity of Finn's writing. It also works well with theme of, well, staying positive.
The album depicts teenage anthems that make tomorrow possible, ("Constructive Summer"), drunken hook-ups reeking of desperation ("Sequestered in Memphis"), and even takes the risk of doing a Zeppelin-themed song "Joke About Jamaica."
Often, I think Finn invented the chorus. Check out "Magazines," ("Magazines and daddy issues/I know you're pretty pissed/I hope you'll still let me kiss you") or "Sequestered in Memphis." Don't be drawn in too much by the sheer rock and roll value on "Constructive Summer" (like I did), to recognize what a poetic and catchy track two "Memphis" is.
Interestingly, it's almost as if the album's title is The Hold Steady's statement on their mediocre album sales. With lyrics like "Cause the kids at their shows/They'll have kids of their own/The sing-a-long songs'll be our scriptures/We gotta stay positive," with albums like this, there are a lot of things to stay positive about.
So while Cheers has faded into the annals of DVD sales and Nick at Nite re-runs, The Hold Steady prepares to ready to pounce on the world. Of the summer albums floating around, this is the one that I realistically had the most hopes for (goddamn you, Weezer), and they did not disappoint. Like that episode where Cliff went on Jeopardy!, Stay Positive lives up to expectations.
-by Sam Fran Scavuzzo
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Key Tracks: Sequestered in Memphis, Lord I am Discouraged, Magazines, Stay Positive
Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy