Thursday, May 29, 2008

And the Best Album of 2008 is....

The Hold Steady-"Stay Positive". Period. End of story. There will not be a better CD released this year. I usually do not engage in this sort of musical hyperbole but it's not this often an album blows me away to this degree.

I have to admit that I have been slow to get into The Hold Steady. Critics and fans have been praising them since their debut in 2004 and each of their previous 3 discs have ended up on many end of the year "Best-Of" lists. What got me to pay attention were the consistent comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Like Bruce, lyricist/lead vocalist Craig Finn has a penchant for story songs about small towns and the characters that inhabit them. I have always thought Finn was an amazing lyricist, but the band always sounded a bit too "bar band" for my taste. They seemed limited in their approach and talent compared to Finn's amazing lyrics. That was in the past....

Something happened to these guys between 2006's excellent "Boys and Girls in America" and this new record. "Stay Positive" is like listening to The Hold Steady in color compared to the black and white sound of their previous discs. Whether it was music lesions, more time investment, or just sheer will, the band has finally stepped up their music to match the words.

And what words they are!! I can now safely say that Craig Finn is the best lyricist working today short of Springsteen, Steve Earle, or Tom Waits. While obviously influenced by Springsteen's work, Finn has as much in common with Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. His songwriting is so literate that each track feels like a chapter in a long novel. The writing on the previous albums was always good, but "Stay Positive" takes Finn's characters to new levels. While many of his previous subjects were enjoying life walking around and drinking, fucking in cars, or mellowing out in chillout tents; the people on the ironically title new disc are living with the party hangover. Finn's characters have grown up and now live with addictions, abuse, and the failed hopes and dreams that we all live with. And all the while the music brings hope and a rousing sense of optimism to the situations.

I can go on and on about how great this CD is, but just make sure you buy it on July 14'th. In the meantime you can check out a few songs below (Constructive Summer, Lord I'm Discuraged, and Magazines).

The Hold Steady's "Stay Positive" is proof of the power that words and music can have on the soul. If only there were more discs half as good.

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