The Hold Steady – ‘The Price of Progress’ album review

The Hold Steady The Price of Progress album review 2023

Photo credit: Shervin Lainez

The Hold Steady celebrate their 20th anniversary with new album ‘The Price of Progress’ – a collection of songs that finds Craig Finn once again telling the gut-punching stories of ordinary and often flawed people trying to navigate their way through life in today’s unsettled times….

‘Grand Junction’ opens the song with jaunty and jolty bursts of guitar and brass as Craig delves straight into his storyteling: ‘People get sad when they turn on each other’. Reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie or Frightened Rabbit’s latter-day work, there’s an understated power in the words as Craig sings about doing what we can to survive and how we ‘lost half what we had through a hole in the bag’. ‘Sideways Skulls’ – a song about old rock & rollers reminiscing about times gone by (and stories that may or may not have happened) – opens with a reference to Robert Plant, which is shortly followed by an observation that the subject’s ‘jacket (is) being held together by rock band patches’. There’s a trademark piano interlude before it finishes with a cutting line that anyone who used to be in a band will resonate with: ‘It never works when no one listens but it’s sure nice to meet some fellow musicians’.

‘Understudies’ is more anthemic and atmospheric with its opening lines about a scarecrow stumbing onto stage and then wondering what they’re doing. Craig talks about how ‘When the show is over, the people in the theatre, stand and clap, try and take this thing back’ but what of the actors who delivered these powerful performances? This song follows their after-hours journey: ‘It’s hard to get to sleep after performing’. ‘Sixers’ follows in a similar vein with its detailed account of a sports fan who relies on medication, alcohol and pills: ‘Stayed up watching basketball replays. There’s a reason she can’t get to sleep and it’s got nothing to do with LeBron James, it’s to do with a chemical reaction’. ‘City at Eleven’ falls in a space somewhere between Steely Dan, Britpop and Bowie before ‘Perdido’ slows things down, following another character on what could be a ‘miracle’ journey: ‘The steps are pretty simple but depresson makes this dance craze much more difficult’. After meeting a man where things don’t quite go to plan, she decides ‘Maybe we’re just better off as party friends’ before a final line finds her meeting him and the new love of his life…

The penultimate ‘Distortion of Faith’ has more of a theatrical and waltzing sound surrounding another devastating tale of a singer’s life not living up to her dreams before ‘Flyover Halftime’ finishes the record with Craig’s finest commentator impression as man disrupts a major sporting event: ‘We’ve got a fan on the field. Don’t want to give him attention, let’s not make him a legend’.

After two decades, The Hold Steady continue to bring the tall tales, incredible hooks and so much more…


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