The Hold Steady have made a welcome return with new record ‘Thrashing Thru the Passion’. The album was recorded in spontaneous fashion and is packed with all the things that we love about The Hold Steady – the hooks, the riffs and Craig Finn’s storytelling lyrics and humour.
Recent single ‘Denver Haircut’ opens the record with a sound that harks back to the band’s breakthrough third album, ‘Boys and Girls in America’. The tale of a chance meeting that takes a man to unexpected places and eventually leaves him alone with no money, it contains references to ‘Master of Puppets’ and darkly tinged observations: ‘You pay the admission and here’s what you get: the stench of death in the credits, the montage set to ‘The Time of Your Life”. There’s also an enthusiasm in its defining statement: ‘It doesn’t have to be pure, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just sort of has to be worth it’. The jaunty hoedown of ‘Epaulets’ follows with its bouncy Tom Petty-meets-Oasis’ ‘Round Are Way’ feel and then ‘You Did Good Kid’ has shouts of its title amidst a sound that brings to mind both James Bond theme tunes and The Shadows. It also finds Craig delivering a stream of consciousness in his words: ‘You won’t be so impressed with the sunrise it if wasn’t for the darkness’.
A burst of brass opens ‘Traditional Village’ while Craig muses on the ‘difference between plunder and pillage’. He also introduces a host of intriguing characters including dodgy waiters, doctors and thieves: ‘The pastor’s reminiscing about the holiday pageant and it’s coming off more creepy than nostalgic’. ‘Entitlement Crew’ features that driving Springsteen-esque bar room sound The Hold Steady do so well as Craig discusses a former suitor falling into a crowd he has no time for: ‘Now here’s the church, here’s the people. I like the party favours but I hate the party people’. He also talks about how there were ‘too many kooks in the kitchen’ and how the song’s subject’s ‘sister’s in Seattle and she’s sleeping with the fishes’ and ‘brother’s in Boston. He’s acting like a dick. I remember before he was sick’. This is followed by ‘T-Shirt Tux’, a song with a toe-tapping melody and discussion of a guy in a ‘T-shirt tux with a piano key tie’ (‘The rest of us were rolling our eyes at the handshake he did with the doorman. But that’s how he gets the stuff that makes him feel so important’). It then changes tone in its final two minutes as it morphs into a Stones-style power anthem. One of the Stones also makes an unexpected appearance in the brilliant lyrics of ‘Star 18’: ‘Hold Steady at the Comfort Inn, Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin’. This is a pacy song with Craig delivering almost spoken-word vocals about Hemingway, Donna Summer and how ‘Once you get good, you can get wherever you are’.
The penultimate ‘The Stove and the Toaster’ opens up in dark and mysterious fashion: ‘Let’s just say they owe me a favour, I did something for them. What it is doesn’t matter. Here’s what’s important: it’s gonna be easy, it’s gonna be simple, pull it up to his temple’. This then progresses to ‘earpiece dudes in a fortified fortress and gaining information from the most unlikely of sources while the brass comes to the fore: ‘They put the stash in the stove, they keep the cash in the toaster’. The closing ‘Confusion in the Marketplace’ opens with fierce drums and an assertive tone: ‘Searching for a purpose or just something we can celebrate’; ‘Hard to keep the faith when they can’t keep the story straight’.