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The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

[Vagrant]

July 14, 2008  |  2:07pm
The Hold Steady: <em>Stay Positive</em>
One of America’s best bands kicks out a new batch of positive jams

Craig Finn just might be the most self-aware frontman in rock ’n’ roll. “Our songs are sing-along songs,” he declares on Stay Positive’s opener “Constructive Summer,” and a couple verses later he shows instead of tells. “Me and my friends are like,” begins the line, before Finn is joined by backing vocals for “double whiskey, coke, no ice.” It’s a moment that begs for a full room’s worth of shouting as uniting as “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” during that R.E.M. song about the end of the world. Finn intuitively knows this, tossing off lines just like it throughout Stay Positive—it’s yet another reason The Hold Steady is one of the best bands in America.

Finn and his Brooklyn-by-way-of-Minneapolis crew also understand that their band’s modus operandi isn’t broken, so there’s no reason to fix it. Instead, they’ve built upon the same monstrous guitar riffs, lyrical witticisms and Springsteeny rock chug they’ve purveyed since day one, upping the stakes with bigger choruses, even more self-referential/clever lyrical nuggets, and an everyman aesthetic that has done nothing but widen the band’s devoted fanbase.

Suffice to say, then, if you’ve enjoyed the increasingly accessible path The Hold Steady’s taken over the last four years—and, frankly, if you like raising beers, pumping fists and yelling out choice phrases, how could you not?—then you’ll find Stay Positive nearly flawless. The record has its oddities, some that feel right at home (the harpsichord on “One for the Cutters,” the vintage Cars keyboards on “Navy Sheets”) and others that shouldn’t have made the final cut (the occasional mysterious, gravelly backing vocals), but it’s still patented, upbeat Hold Steady fun throughout. Or, as Finn puts it, “It’s a pretty good feelin’/ Yeah, it feels pretty good.”

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