The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
It’s a critical moment for The Hold Steady. In the wake of their breakthrough 3rd album ‘Boys And Girls In America’ the pressure’s on to deliver a convincing follow up.
From the moment the first bars of ‘Constructive Summer’ belt out of the speakers, with its insistent driven guitar and piano riff you know they’ve nailed it. ‘Our songs are sing-a-long songs’ proclaims Craig Finn in the opening verse, and in that little phrase perhaps sums up the appeal of The Hold Steady in the face of being almost frighteningly unhip on paper.
It’s a tired cliché to compare these guys to Bruce Springsteen and The E Street band, but when they write tunes like ‘Constructive Summer’, ‘Sequestered In Memphis’ and ‘Yeah Sapphire’ it’s just so hard not to. They are all in possession of piano grooves, guitar licks and brass stabs that could have dropped straight off of the Boss’ ‘Born To Run’ sessions.
Yet despite this provenance they’ve managed to find a special place in the hearts of the cool kids. I suspect this is partly based around the band’s incendiary live performances that take these songs and make them rock in a way that doesn’t quite come across on record, and partly Finn’s brilliant, conversational song writing. In the way that Springsteen did to the generation before, he sings about real life and he sings it with feeling.
There’s a couple of quiet, reflective moments on this record, ‘Lord, I’m Discouraged’ and the beautifully melancholic ‘Both Crosses’, but mostly its 3 minute power pop belters. Title track ‘Stay Positive’ is a wry observation of New York scenesters with a massive sing-a-long chorus that’ll be the mainstay of festivals all over this summer, ‘Magazines’ carries the momentum and closer ‘Slapped Actress’ is an absolute killer.
So much for the pressure to deliver then. Craig and the guys have served up another slab of infectious tunesmithery. Cracking.
Top Tracks: ‘Constructive Summer’, ‘Both Crosses’, ‘Stay Positive’.
Released 14/07/2008 on Rough Trade