One quick look at this week’s take (the week before last’s actually) and you’ll see that it’s all about one band, The Hold Steady. Apparently, Drake and I (and many of the critics worldover) disagree a little bit on this one. I’ve never really been a fan of Finn’s singing, (eventhough I used to love The Doors), and though I’ll admit he is a talented lyricist, the album just doesn’t do it for me personally. For a slightly more nuanced review, and not just my Malcolm Gladwell take, check out the words below. -ed.
Drake’s Take: New Releases 07.15.22
The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady | The Hold Steady. Ahem.
Playlist: New Releases 07.15.08
The Hold Steady have officially gotten bigger in both sound and popularity with Stay Positive. It’s hard to imagine what Lifter Puller fans would make of this album without having the benefit of the gradual build up over the three prior THS releases, Almost Killed Me, Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America. Harpsichord, strings, Boston-like solos, talk-box guitar, Craig Finn actually singing more than speaking… it would’ve freaked me out, I know. But the albums and the passage of time for both the band, and fans like myself, make the impossible changes seem rational, inevitable, and completely welcome. Finn continues to write lyrics that make reviewers nervous, but now he’s eschewing the sarcasm for believable sincerity, while remaining authentically gritty, with his tales of good kids reaching for something big, falling hard and getting back up again.
The stunning opener, “Constructive Summer,” grips you from the get go: Me and my friends are like / the drums on “Lust for Life” we pound it out on floor toms /our psalms are sing-a-long songs. Finn takes from the private Catholic school to summer break, “where we can all be something bigger” — climbing the water tower and getting hammered. Catechism is rebuffed in favor of the teachings of St. Joe Strummer, and we’re all like a Dillinger Four song (“Doublewhiskeycokenoice”, which will be quickly moving up their Rhapsody most played list). The lead single, “Sequestered in Memphis,” is up next, and is the perfect Hold Steady song, in the mold of “Chips Ahoy,” with a more literal boy/girl story. Backed on vocals appropriately by Ben Nichols of Memphis’ Lucero (who also sings on “Magazine,”) this one involves a business man who’s one night stand leads to a police interview when it turns out the woman (Sapphire?) is wanted for a crime. The crime appears to be that she’s an accomplice in the murder of a townie, which is laid out in the next song, the tragedy “One for the Cutters.” “One drop of blood on immaculate Keds,” perfectly captures the end of innocence that Craig Finn has mastered in his songwriting. Lines like “Sniffing at crystal in cute little cars, getting nailed against dumpsters behind townie bars,” are followed by the light sounds of a harpsichord, like the Partridge Family. Come to think of it, Danny Bonaduce is a lot like Craig Finn song – the promise of tomorrow loses innocence early (and often)… just missing that chapter of redemption (in that regard, isn’t Texas Ranger slugger Josh Hamilton, Baseball’s current on deck savior, the ultimate THS mascot? If he played for the Twins, one could imagine Finn writing an entire album about him).
There’s not really much to complain about the album. Sure the soaring guitar solo on “Lord, I’m Discouraged” borders on wankery, but it’s in part meant as nostalgiac, recalling those days when we were young and in excess. Sapphire is at rock bottom here, but the next song, “Yeah Sapphire” (where she’s finally given a name,) she’s on the path to recovery. “I was a skeptic at first, but these miracles work,” works wonders to end the song, especially when the song opens with the Catholic tickler of a come-on, “If I cross myself when I come, Would you maybe receive me?”
Of course, the album centers around the infectious title track, and the it follows through of Finn’s statement that The Hold Steady were straight edge for the post-prom crowd. Referencing 7 Seconds and thinking back to his youth, Finn then goes on to reference countless previous Hold Steady songs, enough so that it would require it’s own post. The obvious one, of course, is “Positive Jam,” the song that started off their debut release, and the reference also goes so far as to thank the fan listening:
‘Cause it’s one thing to start it with a positive jam
And it’s another thing to see it on through
And we couldn’t have even done this,
If it wasn’t for you
They saved the best for last, though, with “Slapped Actresses,” which is essentially about John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night, which features Gena Rowland’s character Myrtle being concerned about getting slapped in a scene their shooting for the play within the film. Ben Gazarra’s character replies “It’s a tradition. Actresses get slapped. It’s mandatory you get hit,” which Cassavetes expert Roger Deforest has said:
(T)he term “slap” in this context means that actresses must make themselves vulnerable in their profession, and be “hit” by the reality of love, aging, mortality, beauty, etc., on a level apart from their stage roles. That one sentence “it’s mandatory you get hit” sums up the crux of Myrtle’s dilemma, and serves as the catalyst for her fight to avoid being “hit” by reality.
Sapphire and the other characters who lose their innocence can only be saved by being slapped here, making getting hit a wholly positive jam.
More on the radar this week:
American Teen – Music from the Motion Picture
Benji Hughes – A Love Extreme (in Rhapsody a week early) / “You Stood Me Up” [mp3]
Daedelus – Love to Make Music to
Blind Pilot – 3 Rounds and a Sound
UNKLE – End Titles…Stories for Film
Bajofondo – Mar Dulce
Sunset – Someone Else’s DéjÃ Vu / “When Perfect Flames Expire,” “The World Is Awaiting” [mp3]
The Twilight Sad – Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards it Did
Pas/Cal – I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura / “Glorious Ballad of the Ignored” [mp3]
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Magic Tour Highlights
Negativeland – Thigmotactic
The Dark Knight – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
David Banner – The Greatest Story Ever Told
John Mellencamp – Life Death Love and Freedom / Free album stream from AOL
Drakkar Sauna – Wars & Tornadoes
Icy Demons – Miami Ice
The Grascals – Keep On Walkin’
ABN – It is What it Is
Lucky Dragons – Dream Island Laughing Language
The Boy Bathing – A Fire To Make Preparations
Roedelius – Inlandish