The Hold Steady Keep The Faith

Jul 15th, 2008 // 25 Comments

From time to time, we round up the all-important, all-summarizing last sentences of the biggest new-music reviews. This time around, we look at the critical reaction to the Hold Steady’s Stay Positive, which hits stores today.

• “Religious imagery abounds as Finn refracts secular through sacred and arrives at his own inclusive spiritual understanding: ‘The sing-along songs will be our scriptures,’ he declares on the title track. And they are, which is part of what makes the Hold Steady’s fourth album so powerful. These songs are built for sing-alongs, whether you’re in the car with the windows down or at a Hold Steady concert, pressed in among people who are ready for a constructive summer of their own.” [Eric R. Danton, Hartford Courant]

• “While its title and lyrics often make Stay Positive sound like a darkest-before-the-dawn kind of record, the themes Finn keeps returning to–skipping town, starting over clean, resurrection–all speak to the redemptive power of second chances. When the Hold Steady plead with you to ‘stay positive,’ and you consider their unlikely and continued ascendancy, you could do worse than take them at their word.” [Jason Crock, Pitchfork]

• “What connects everything is that for all the drugged-out messes he chronicles, Finn is about as far from a nihilist as rock has. What he’ll never expunge from the church is the same thing he can never forget from all those basement shows as a kid: the sense that you can make yourself more powerful by giving in to the collective. He isn’t trying to be anybody’s savior. He just wants to spread the word.” [Michaelangelo Matos, Salon]

• “The Hold Steady are keen to remind us of the parallels between rock and religion, how the joining of voices is a favourite of both pulpit and punk moshpit. The album opens, peaks and closes on rousing, communal ‘oh woah ohs’. ‘These singalong songs are our scriptures,’ Finn notes at one point; elsewhere, he raises a toast to ‘St Joe Strummer–he might have been our only decent teacher’. Bleak but hopeful, Stay Positive is about a belief in the transformative powers of rock’n'roll. It more than repays your faith.” [Kitty Empire, The Observer]

• “Boys and Girls in America was the first Hold Steady album that actually sounded nostalgic; while Stay Positive is more musically rich, it’s only because the band has become so proficient at recreating ’70s classic rock. The problem is that the band has always used that sound as a reference, not a goal. Its 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me, tried to create preening classic rock out of jittery punk insouciance, and in the process came up with a hybrid that was better than both. So while Stay Positive earns the Hold Steady its rightful designation as the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band of its generation, it’s a bittersweet coronation knowing the band is capable of so much more.” [Bret McCabe, New York Sun]


  1. Bazooka Tooth

    Let me guess: songs about small town people getting drunk and finding the faith to keep going, and then getting drunk some more, all while sounding like a mediocre 80s band for boring middle-aged white guys who wear ankle length white socks with tennis shoes. YAWN

  2. SonicSlang

    They could be “so much more” than this generation’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band? So in other words, the best live band in the business fronted by the Poet Laureate of the working class?

    I personally think that’s an achievement one Craig Finn would be quite satisfied with…

  3. mhale0

    If you’ve never seen them live, you cannot imagine…
    It is like a revival, ecstatic and joyous, but also profane and hedonistic.
    Most of the people at the shows ARE boring middle aged white guys (well, late 20s & up).
    That they are so moved by the music is the whole point.

  4. righteousmaelstrom

    @mhale0: That must be the case, because I just cannot hear the appeal of these guys.

  5. CloudCarrier

    I was very doubtful of this whole enterprise from the time this record leaked, but I gave in and embraced it, and their earlier material, like I was in some support group. As well, I don’t drink, so I guess I’ll never be able to understand this band, right? Right.

  6. RaptorAvatar

    @Aquemini: Nobody who jocks hip hop in their username gets to bitch about ANYTHING being a rehash. Especially true when the thing being bitched about is, itself, a recapitulation of an old sound that’s laregeley elevated by excellent lyricism(sound familiar?). As for The Hold Steady writing about teens getting wasted, that’s a perception that’s due largeley to critics selling it short. Finn has his own cosmology and getting hammered in quarries between the ages of 17 and 23 is part of it. Other things that show up: 80s Hardcore as an ideological paralell to Catholocism, Biblical Allusions, Pynchonesque recurrences of different motifs, and performance in the context of an aging artist.

  7. Halfwit

    @RaptorAvatar: Good thing/bad thing on that cosmology. I love this band (well… mostly “Boys and Girls”), but if I hear “(drown/bathe) by the banks of the Mississippi river” one more time, I’m gonna pich a CD out the window.

  8. Charlie Kerfelds Jetsons Tee

    @RaptorAvatar: Well then.

  9. the rich girls are weeping

    @RaptorAvatar: Clearly, you’ve given this a lot of thought. By which I mean, read all the press surrounding this album. I bet you can quote Obama’s platform verbatim, too.

  10. westartedthis

    the lyrical points have been talked into the ground – and they’re not even funny anymore. the music is more diverse and accomplished – big deal (see Guided by Voices’ late-period albums). aside from that whopper about them actually being this generation’s Springsteen/E-Street Band, i think i mostly agree with the New York Sun quote.

  11. Anonymous

    These guys are, for better or worse, Fall Out Boy for adults- guitars that sound great, lots of musical hooks, and overly dramatic lyrics. I love it.

  12. Anonymous

    These guys are, for better or worse, Fall Out Boy for Adults: The guitars sound pretty good, there are plenty of hooks, the lyrics are overly dramatic (and self-aware) and the songs aren’t too long. I love love love this album.

  13. Anonymous


  14. Michaelangelo Matos

    @the rich girls are weeping: or maybe he’s just listened to them. ya think?

  15. RaptorAvatar

    @the rich girls are weeping: Oh, you have cut me to the quick! I did, indeed, pick up the “17-23″ reference from an interview. Truly, that invalidates the other stuff I noticed on my own over the past 6 weeks of listening to the album! Never mind that my point in listing that stuff was to justify my earlier statement that the album was about more than just the partying.

  16. the rich girls are weeping

    @Michaelangelo Matos, @RaptorAvatar: Oh goodness. I sure do hate the internet sometimes. That was supposed to be humorous, but apparently missed the mark for you.

  17. RaptorAvatar

    @the rich girls are weeping: That’s what happens when you cook sarcasm in the opportunity to be opinionated. Fortunateley, I went with the defensive response instead of the ad hominem rant.

  18. the rich girls are weeping

    @RaptorAvatar: We don’t always behave our best when we can dash off thoughtless quips at the expense of others’ opinions. Some people are thoughtless, others oversensitive. C’est la vie. GROUP HUG?

    oh and?

    @drinkypuss: you know, you have a point there, given that they’re all cribbing riffs from the same sources.

  19. the rich girls are weeping

    ps — BTW, you people are shaming me into listening to this, after I really had decided it wasn’t worth the bother and seriously, that’s hard for me to admit. I want some insurance that it will be 35 minutes well-spent. Perhaps I’ll multitask or something?

  20. RaptorAvatar

    @the rich girls are weeping: If you multitask, I’d suggest either reading up on the symbolic history of the cross ([] seems like a good start)and applying it to the themes of the album or shotgunning cheap beers while hanging out with friends. Both reveal different dimensions of the album.

  21. sparkletone

    @Aquemini: While I don’t necessarily disagree, I have to ask… What is the appropriate length white sock to wear with tennis shoes?

  22. the rich girls are weeping

    @RaptorAvatar: Dude, thx for that link. Shotgunning brews with St. Andrew and St. Peter!

  23. blobby

    “Religious imagery abounds as Finn refracts secular through sacred and arrives at his own inclusive spiritual understanding…”

    The fuck?

  24. jt.ramsay

    I had to dig up this quote from Gerard Cosloy, comparing the Hold Steady to “later-period Soul Asylum fronted by Charles Nelson Reilly.” Always brings a smile to my face.

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