Review: The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (2008)

A couple years ago, Cursive responded to The Ugly Organ (Saddle Creek, 2003) with a definite political-themed album interspersed with their unique spinning of entangled tales. Intertwining references continued with their fourth album, Happy Hollow (Saddle Creek, 2006). Musically, not as diverse, yet just as inventive with its depth of unmatched storytelling. The same can be said, without the political theme, for The Hold Steady’s fourth release, Stay Positive (Vagrant, 2008), reflected back against its predecessors, especially Boys And Girls In America (Vagrant, 2006). The tales of youth and debauchery have matured in satisfying natural progression.

Aside from the single, Sequestered in Memphis, the band expands slightly into new and (semi)familiar territory. One For The Cutters features a gorgeous dueling harpsichord/piano, juxtaposing baroque verses with driving piano choruses. Think a jazz piano bar, centuries ago, with Craig Finn as the bard. The optimistic ambiance of the album shines throughout, particularly towards the end of Lord, I’m Discouraged. The narrator throughout belays frustration throughout the first half at how “the circles have sucked in her eyes” and “I’m trying to light candles but they burn down to nothing.” The notes hang, sulking until nearly three-fourths of the way through, lifted upwards with “…won’t you show me a sign, let me know that you’re listening?” as if hope and strength were found within at the lowest point.


Track 2: Sequestered In Memphis (Late Show with David Letterman, July 16th, 2008)

Stay Positives remains familiar in places. Navy Sheets retains a few splotches of synthed keys drawing back towards the wavering feel of Manpark from Craig and Tad Kubler’s previous band, Lifter Puller (iTunes).

The digital release is currently available with the physical being released on July 15th, featuring 3 tracks (including Ask Her For Adderall). These tracks are not b-sides. The digital release being available prior to help plug the leaky pipes of the internet, sans 3 tracks.

Physical Release Update (7/15): The supplemental tracks are combined into one at the end of the CD version. Although listed as bonus, the trio hold their own. Cheyenne Sunrise recollects those smokey, western bars through its country-tinged piano and late-night blues harmonica and organ. “Some things they seem much harder, some other things stay soft…” preaches Craig. Two Handed Handshake starts with the common piano, yet is spiced with a staccato trumpet. It’s a lively, better conclusion to the album than Slapped Actress on the digital release, heightening to Broken Social Scene-esque dreamy backing vocals. “Guys I’m pretty sure that we can put it back together. And girls you gotta try to be nice to one another” transitions Stay Positive to the next anticipated effort.

The Hold Steady
iTunes | MySpace | Official

Rating: 7.7/10

Thoughts?

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