Thursday, February 27, 2014

Going Steady

The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday cuffed my ears shortly after it came out in 2005. Take “This Poem Sucks” from Mike Myers’ So I Married An Axe Murderer, and replace his jazz trio musicians with a hard rock band capable of reproducing E-Street-esque jams, and you’ve got the Hold Steady.

Separation Sunday blew my mind. It was everything in music I thought shouldn’t appeal to me, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. Each album could almost come with a map -- Penetration Park, the Party Pit -- as if he were writing about a modern urban Westeros. Lines fall out of Craig Finn’s mouth as if he has swallowed 49 hard-boiled eggs before having to bend over and force every last ounce back out.

The words are a cold army shower. The lyrics are harsh and piercing, but neither smug nor unfairly judgmental. Finn regularly celebrates the idea that the very things that imprison us or destroy us oftentimes are things that at some point set us free and quite possibly might again. Yeah, drugs are bad. Except when they’re not. And sluts are bad. Except when they’re not. And insensitive prick boyfriends are bad, and the same party for the 20th weekend, and going to see that movie one more time because there’s nothing better to do, and so on and so on. The Hold Steady pays homage to circling the drain, because for some people, and at some times in life, the only choices are to circle it or give in altogether, and if you’re just circling the drain, there’s still a hair’s breadth of chance you might get out alive.

Most importantly, what The Hold Steady do for me is force me to appreciate what happens behind the words. Unlike many of my favorite artists and bands, I can’t get caught up in the sing-a-long experience, even when I know every word, which admittedly isn’t often.

Their last album, Heaven is Forever, didn’t blow me away like their previous albums, but I respected the effort. Craig Finn tried to sing, sorta. And the band tried to sound a little less like a 70s rock band and a little more like a 90s rock band trying to pay homage to 70s rock bands. So it wasn’t as good, but I couldn’t hate ‘em for taking a chance.

Last year, jonesing badly for them and worrying they might never get back together, I went back and bought their debut, Almost Killed Me. I can see why many claim it’s their best album, but for me “Boys and Girls in America” get the top spot over the first two by a hair.

The Hold Steady has a new album coming out in March. The first single from Teeth Dreams is “Spinners,” and it is a thing of Hold Steady beauty.

She goes out almost every night
She dresses up and she spins around
The same guy buys another round
To let her know he’s interested
The nights go around forever now
But the morning comes so quick

The song crunches. It’s muscular as hell. It’s about -- shocker -- the fact that for some people, and at some times in life, the only choices are to circle the drain or give in altogether. Oh yes, Teeth Dreams is gonna be worth savoring.

Finn’s recent albums are the same stories and the same poetic turns of biting phrase as their early work, but it’s now being written by a 43-year-old instead of a 33-year-old. And trust me, it’s different. The hangovers are different. The friends are different. Most of your favorite 20-year-old memories now have a mutated mix of emotional ingredients, and there’s more sadness to them because they’re way the hell gone, and recreating them would either ravage your body beyond repair or prove you were far more depraved than you can recall sitting in your kitchen, sipping your G&T and flipping through that photo album.

1 comment:

Robert Berman said...

On a musical level, I like it; thanks for the tip. I will definitely check them out further. On a thematic level, I'm disappointed that a 43 year old spends his lyrics talking about clubbing. Write what you know? Hopefully he has more to say on the other songs.