Thursday, August 14, 2008

Getting Back to Your Roots

My blog, which I started in an attempt to collect my various pop-culture rants, has been a little light on the pop-culture lately, heavy instead on odes to the US Men's Olympic Swim Team and the chronicling of various voodoo rituals implemented in an effort to make the Yankees play better. To rectify that, 340 words devoted to The Hold Steady's excellent latest album, Stay Positive, which has been in heavy rotation on my iPod since purchasing it a few weeks ago. 

Very little press about The Hold Steady goes by without evoking Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. To be compared to the Boss certainly seems to set up high expectations, but if Bruce came of age listening to The Replacements, The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle is going to sound a lot like Stay Positive. Craig Finn's vocals are slightly more... shoutey than Bruce's - certainly a punk influence - but the loners and losers who inhabit his songs are the same ones roaming the Jersey Shore in the 70s - kids who just want to get out, to be anywhere but here, to figure out what the hell they're supposed to do with their lives while they work dead end jobs. And come on, if you're putting a saxophone solo in a rock song today, you owe a pretty big debt to Bruce and the Big Man.

But there are plenty of Springsteen tribute bands out there, and that's not a job for which The Hold Steady is applying. Sure, their love of classic rock shines brightly through every song they play, but they just wants to rock at a time when good old straight ahead rock and roll with thoughtful lyrics and loud guitars seems to be falling off the radar in favor of god knows what. "Sequestered in Memphis," a tune about a one night stand and a murder investigation, is far catchier than its macabre subject matter might indicate. The title track roars in with a triumphant organ fill and a grounded but optimistic POV on the scene. The entire album is one relentless guitar onslaught crammed with riff after riff of music that makes you feel alive again.

The Hold Steady are big enough now to get a full review in Entertainment Weekly (the July 18th issue, if you're curious, and a ringing endorsement). I'm not sure what this says about them, that they're just a few issues removed from a review of the new Jonas Brothers album. Hopefully it's a good thing. After all, if they're following in the footsteps of their idols, it did take a few albums before the world as a whole picked up on the genius of Springsteen.

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