Friday, July 18, 2008

They still like beer and the nightlife

"Me and my friends are like the drums on 'Lust for Life,'" sings the Hold Steady's Craig Finn at the onset of the band's new record. "We pound it out on floor toms/ Our psalms are sing-along songs." And with that begins Stay Positive, the Brooklyn band's fourth LP, and latest set of loquacious party anthems.

As with the rest of their discography, Positive is full of both the promise of good times ahead ("We're gonna build something this summer," intones Finn, in signature nasal, on opener "Constructive Summer"), as well as the consequences that can come with them (by the second song, "Sequestered in Memphis," the narrator is already questioning the previous night's decisions).

Still, the overall lyrical and musical terrain on this record is a bit sadder and more introspective than with previous efforts. And while there's plenty of the E Street organ and Zeppelinesque riffs that have come to define the neo-classic rock bar band's sound, that tonal growth allows for some welcomed experimentation (the harpsichord and offbeat time signature of "One for the Cutters;" the haunting mandolin of "Both Crosses;" title track "Stay Positive," which shows off the band's hardcore roots).

Unfortunately, while the group's branching out is commendable, the album lacks the immediacy and energy of their last disc, the much-lauded Boys and Girls in America. On the other hand, both the Hold Steady and their previous incarnation, Lifter Puller, had to grow on me before I became a big fan, and the same could definitely turn out to be true about Stay Positive. For now, suffice it to say that it rocks.

Grade: B+

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