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]