Album: The Hold Steady, Stay Positive (Vagrant)

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The Independent Culture

The Hold Steady, for the inattentive, are a Brooklyn quintet whose sound fuses Eighties hardcore with bar-room blues: imagine Hüsker Dü meets the E Street Band. Their USP is that their major players were already well into their thirties when the band formed, and are now staring down the barrel of 40.

One of the bonuses of longevity is that you have stories to tell, and Craig Finn has plenty. 'Stay Positive' is crammed with rich narratives about misadventures with cocaine and fortified wine, and closing time goddesses seen through beer goggles. Frequently, though, you lose track of what he’s singing about, buried under the chime and reverb of the treble-end guitars.

Which means that you either get off on the intrinsic flavour of what the Hold Steady do, or you don’t. And what they do is to appeal to a somewhat tedious idea of what "proper" music is meant to sound like. After a while it palls, and "Navy Sheets", with its stop-start dynamic and juicy new wave synths, is like being allowed to eat your dessert after chomping reluctantly through your greens.

"Lord, I'm Discouraged", a country ballad, is also welcome respite. 'Stay Positive' is the sound of a band doing exactly what they claim: holding steady.

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