“Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer/I think he might have been our only decent teacher.” That verse is from “Constructive Summer,” the jam that should be the song of summer 2008. It’s got everything: A hot, fast pace; really cool lyrics; rebellion and cruel-to-your-school sentiment . . . In fact, that about sums up the entire “Stay Positive” album, which leaked a few weeks ago and was streaming live at the band’s myspace page. I hate streams, but this one, I tuned in for. Twice. Then, I bought it off iTunes the day it came out.
“Sequestered In Memphis” is another summer song, but this one is a tale of a poor sap who goes to Memphis for business and ends up in court. “I’m getting pretty sick of this interview/Subpoenaed in Texas/Sequestered in Memphis.” How many artists can get away with lyrics like that?
Only Craig Finn, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m happy to say that Vagrant Records recently got out from under Interscope’s controlling interest, back in 2006, which means that The Hold Steady are truly indie once again. Fans of the band should be happy with “Stay Positive” for at least the first three songs, which are solid, standard Steady stories. “Navy Sheets,” the fourth track, branches out a bit with a whirling ’80s sound, but Finn’s voice is so distinctive, so grounding, that the band can’t stray too far from its signature sound. The fifth song, “Lord I’m Discouraged,” is the first ballad on the album, and it’s pretty standard, too. One of the weaker songs on the record (although the guitar solo is worth of anything Steve Perry ever shredded). It’s kind of cool to have a big important solo like this–so few bands do it these days. Still, I found “Both Crosses” to be a far more interesting slow song, complete with its tribute to Billy Joel (“Catholic girls start much too late”), and it’s haunting tale of a savage, murdering angel.
“Joke About Jamaica,” is a little too Bonnie Tyler for me (Do you hear “Faster Than The Speed of Night” in there anyone? No? How about “Holding Out For A Hero?”), but it’s still a good, fun summer tune. Love all the Led Zep references.
“Magazines” is the band’s answer to J. Geils’, “Centerfold” song, what with its seedy lyrics (“Magazines and daddy issues/I know you’re pretty pissed/I hope you still let me kiss you,” Finn sings.
Ben Nichols of Lucero is on the album–he is to Memphis Bruce what the Hold Steady are to The Boss in Brooklyn–and the two mesh magnificently.
I’d say this is The Hold Steady’s sunniest album ever. It’s not their best, but that’s not a damning review. As far as I’m concerned, Separation Sunday, Almost Killed Me, and Boys and Girls In America are three of the greatest rock and roll records of the last 20 years. This album deserves a spot on the shelf with them.
Here they are live, dong something old and something new. Don’t miss them on tour, and buy the album direct from them . . .
Hot Soft Light
Stuck Between Stations
Sequestered in Memphis
You Can Make Him Like You
Your Little Hoodrat Friend
Lord I’m Discouraged