July 20, 2010

Review: The Hold Steady - "Heaven is Whenever"

No one will ever proclaim that The Hold Steady are innovators or forging new territory with their brand of rock, but on their new release, "Heaven is Whenever", Craig Finn and the boys take steps to being a little more experimental and try to broaden the strokes with the bar rock they are so famous for.

On the opening track, "The Sweet Part of the City", the album opens with not a hook-laden rocker like the Steady is known for, but more of a Black Crowes style slow burner. With slide guitars, piano and Finn's very recognizable voice, its a different start and one that seems as though it will send a message to the listener that things are different this time around. Overall, I like the song, and I might even say its one of the best HS tunes in their catalog. I got pretty excited for the potential of the record.

After such a strong start, the record begins to follow suit of the previous Hold Steady records. Songs like "Soft in the Center", which sounds like it has Slash on the guitar solo (thats not a knock, btw), and "The Smidge" come from the same blood line of the Hold Steady family, and there isn't anything wrong with that. Craig Finn unleashes all his favorite words and rhymes with a fury, weaving tales of youth, women, bars, relationships, and life as someone who we don't know, knows it. His words flow in and out over layers of backing vocals, subtle keyboards and, at times, elaborate arrangements, such as on the ballad, "We Can Get Together". This song is a fine example of the Steady taking chances and winning, while still holding true to their bread and butter.

Another stand out track is "Barely Breathing", with a hot electric piano accompaniment and, I think, a clarinet solo. Horns, sweeping vocals, and a perky tempo makes "Barely Breathing" another example of stretching out the Hold Steady boundaries and being successful. But don't worry, if you are worried that they abandoned the party, fist pumping, bar sing-a-longs, the rest of the album is right up your alley. They know what brings the people to the shows.

Overall, I think the group pulls off another great lab of rock and pop gems. While I may not pay attention to every song when it comes on, if this record is on in the background, don't be surprised to do a little air guitar or foot tapping. The Hold Steady have firmly cemented themselves as the potential torch carrying, blue collar rockers that will not disappoint the Springsteen/Mellencamp/Petty fans out there, once those guys decide to hang up the welding masks. Hell, they'll probably all meet every now and then at a Hold Steady show, drink beers and sing along like everyone else. How could they not?


  1. Nice review. As if a Slash-like guitar solo could ever be considered a knock... phooey!!

  2. Keep it down, willya? It would be cool to see them at the Cradle again.