Reviews: The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

Obviously, if you read herohill, you know neither Shane nor I is a "critic" in the traditional sense. Sure, we can tell you what we like (or what we hate - Nickleback we are looking at you), and let you judge it on your own. So when it comes to a critical review, you might want to visit one of the hundreds of other web sites that are raving about why the new Hold Steady record is so great.

As the song starts, the piano and booming guitars on Stuck Between Stations make me really want to get into the record. It's catchy and sounds better the louder you turn it up. The riffage is so nice you kind of don't pay attention to what what Craig Finn is singing/talking (though I like his jump into singing more) about. Sure, a rock song doesn't have to say much. Some times you just want to crank it up and get guitarted.

The problem I have with this record is, despite people's constant comparisons to Westerberg, I actually find Finn's vocals kind of annoying. I can't sit through a full CD of someone talking about high school and getting high at the carnival. Maybe I'm not old enough to want to wax nostaligic about those days, and not young enough to still be living them. Or more accurately, maybe I just think it's ridiculous to use lyrics like, "kicking it with cousins, we were talking about going clubbing, but instead we just started drinking" and "walk around and drink some more."

Musically, this band cranks it up. There's no doubt about that, but the best way I can describe the results is to say this record is like a really hot, vegan, activist. Sure, it looks great, but when you have to listen to what they are saying, you lose interest, just before you get angry and tell them to shut the fuck up.

Is this harsh? Sure. There is no denying the electric keyboard solos and whirling guitars are fun. Not many artists just deliver bordering line cheese lick, without any intention of being ironic and for that, you have to tip your cap to these guys. But all that seems lost when you listen to Finn continually glorify the idea of being wasted. We get it. Mushrooms are cool. Puking is awesome. HIgh school keggers are the jam. But, I'm 30?

There are moments of brilliance on this record; (like Doobie Taylor) they are undeniable. The opening track is as fun as I've heard all year. The beautiful piano driven ballad First Night grabs you and won't let go. The gentle slide guitar and simple drums highlight the emotion of the track. Southtown Girls is simply amazing. Like the song says, it won't "blow you away" and that's perfect energy level for this song and in reality, for this band. Instead of trying to rock your socks off and let you know how cool it is to get tore up, they just deliver a solid anthem that touches on the classic rock you can't help but love (even the Blues Traveler harmonica solo makes me smile).

Unfortunately, they are sandwiched around tracks like Party Pit and Chillout Tent. A squeaky, mouse-like voice talking about getting her getting too fucked up and having to relax in the chillout tent? I hate seeing those people, and maybe that's my problem with this record. I don't want to go back to the days where all we did was wait for Friday class to end so we could shoulder tap for a sixer and smoke a joint. Is being a fantastic bar band still great when the people your singing about can't get into the bar?

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