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The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever

Music Reviews The Hold Steady
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The Hold Steady: <em>Heaven Is Whenever</em>

The wonder years

The Hold Steady’s great gift used to be the ability to transform adolescence into something that holds within its unbearable awkwardness the irreplaceable magic of discovery. But on its magnificent fifth album, the band has finally grown up a little, and singer/narrator Craig Finn sounds like a spectator in the grandstands, taking in the game and issuing casual advice to the kids on field: “You can’t kiss every girl,” he sings with near-fatherly earnestness on “Soft in the Center.” The songs, meanwhile, sound bigger than before, his bandmates compensating for the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay by installing bayou guitars (“The Sweet Part of the City”), Dixieland breakdowns (“Barely Breathing”) and—all together now—more cowbell (“The Smidge”). One might suspect that The Hold Steady’s rock repurposing would eventually chafe, but they’re achieving the opposite effect, again pulling off with heroic sincerity the idea that heaven is lying on the floor listening to records—even if you’re well past 16.

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