By: Bo Liebman
Opening their new album with the folksy “The Sweet Part of the City”, echoing Dylan and Tom Petty with its rootsy slide guitar and mellow melody, Minneapolis rockers The Hold Steady show their continued musical growth, even as they continue telling their nostalgic stories about girls, partying, and music.
The album’s highlight comes up next with “Soft in the Center”. Using the simple couplet of “You can’t get every girl/You’ll get the ones you love the most”, Craig Finn and his crew create their most elegiac chorus ever as they give advice to a troubled kid. The backing vocals bring a warmth to this song and many others that the band has never achieved before, and this track also throws in a beautiful guitar solo to boot.
“Hurricane J” continues the Hold Steady’s pattern of referencing their previous albums as Finn tells a girl named Jesse he’s not pleased with her crowd who “don’t seem positive”. Setting these to an upbeat punk blast of music, it reminds listeners why the Hold Steady are so easy to love – they always stay positive. The music uplifts whenever possible, which is hard to say about so much of today’s modern rock.
For the Hold Steady’s fans, this album will be another great addition to the band’s catalogue, but that doesn’t mean they’ve perfected their song writing yet. Finn can get self-indulgent with his lyrics, complaining about a girl who can’t sympathize with his “Rock Problems”, and the bar room stomp of “Barely Breathing” fails to captivate the imagination as so many Hold Steady songs do.
Where this band excels is in songs like “Our Whole Lives”, their piano-laden, E Street inspired rockers, and thankfully most of Heaven is Whenever follows this path.