Friday, October 06, 2006

Long Live the Power Chords and the Licks!

One of my big fears is that one of my favorite bands will eventually put out a crappy album. It's happened numerous times where I've come to really like a group or singer, and then they pull the rug out from under me by sucking big time. It often happens after their breakthrough album. I'm happy to report that it hasn't happened concerning a band rising up my own personal favorite band charts.

Through two albums I've come to love The Hold Steady. With their debut album Almost Killed Me I saw promise. Then they stole my heart last year with Separation Sunday their breakthrough album. It will be the album that all other Hold Steady albums will be compared to. It's one of the best albums of this decade. Anyway, The Hold Steady released their follow up album this week called Boys and Girls in America. Yes, the title is taken from Kerouac's On the Road. Upon first listen I realized that the boys hadn't let me down.

The best way to describe the music is if Springsteen and the E Street Band grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities during the 80's and 90's. Lead singer and writer Finn speaks more than sings, but he has the story telling skills of Springsteen. With the Twin Cities as the backdrop he's tells the story of the lost and confused and their search for anything to keep them going, to make them feel alive. Whereas Separation Sunday was a concept album, B&GA is thematic. A few of the characters from Separation Sunday show up including my personal favorite Hallelujah "the kids all called her Holly."

Side note: If I had met someone like Holly during my teenage years I would have fallen in love with her. There's nothing like a lost and damaged lapsed Catholic girl to bring the need to rescue someone being confused with love. I would certainly think I could save Holly from herself. In fact there were a few girls I met like Holly, and I wanted to save and love them all.

In comparison, B&GA has the band playing more like a band. They sound more cohesive than on Separation Sunday. The power chords and the licks (Yes, this band actually has guitar licks) are all still there, they just sound tighter. Just as important Finn's stories are still there. There's the story of a girl who's gift for picking horses leads to getting high in "Chips Ahoy." The remembrance of some "Massive Nights" where "
we kissed in your car and we drank from your purse/i had my mouth on her nose when the chaperon said we were dancing too close." The two overdosed lovers who meet in the "Chill Out Tent" make out and never see each other again. In "First Night" Holly is "inconsolable/Unhinged and uncontrollable/'Cause we can't get as high as we got on that first night" "First Night" comes the closest to the pure emotional build of "How a Resurrection Really Feels" on Separation Sunday. In "You Can Make Him Like You," Finns sings about a girl who always gets involved with the boys who get her high. "You don't have to go to the right kind of schools / Let your boyfriend come from the right kind of schools / You can wear his old sweatshirt / You can cover yourself like a bruise."

There is a sadness to the stories, but that's because the details of Finn's writing paints characters you've probably met in your own life. Hell I identify with the bar regular in "Citrus" who keeps coming to the same bar and says he's "lost in fog and love and faith was fear/ and I've had kisses that make Judas seem sincere." I was that guy years ago. Will this album break them into the mainstream? Who knows and who cares? It is more accessible I think simply because Finn sings a few more times than in the previous albums. Separation Sunday is still better in my opinion. What I do know is that I'm three great albums into The Hold Steady, and they have risen to the top five of bands that are still putting out music. I will still be worried about their next album, but probably not as much as before.

The band has put the album up for streaming Listen Here

iTunes for some reason has two extra songs ("Girls Like Status" and "Arms and Hearts") for download. Both are solid songs but why encourage downloading an album over buying the actual album?

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