The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday
A year ago, I was so sure no one would top it, I proclaimed The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me to be the best rock album of 2004. In a deliberate attempt to confuse me, Comets on Fire released the most rock album of the year, but I realized the difference and remained confident in my proclamation. The problem was that most of my friends were already tired of me trying to convince them of the genius of Sammy Hagar and Larry Norman, so my endorsement was often just met with raised eyebrows. It didn't help that the most accurate descriptions I could come up with ("they sound like Keith Morris and The Silver Bullet Band parodying Lou Reed's 'New York', but with tons of clever in-jokes") made me sound like an idiot. By now, though, alot of people have heard the record, so I feel somewhat vindicated.
The Hold Steady's new one is called Separation Sunday, and it expands the sound of the first, while staying true to the bands unique vision. The bar-band schlock is way less Beaver Brown and way more E-Street, and the classic rock riffing isn't so much a pastiche - now they manage some genuine invention. Main guy Craig Finn's lyrical onslaught of pop-culture riffing remains, but he's lightened the density and strenghtened his storytelling abilities. On the first number, "Hornets! Hornets!", he winds references to Powell Peralta, Nabakov, and Kate Bush, an ...Almost Killed Me lyric, a St. Paul, Minnesota geography lesson, and an insistent boogie-riff that's half-Rush, half-ZZ Top around the story of a late night hookup that probably shouldn't be happening. While guys like Broooce Springsteen have characters that let it rip on the open road, The Hold Steady's songs are populated by losers in night club parking lots, waiting for a ride to the party where they can get some free drugs. Throughout the album, close encounters with 'killer parties', a crazy drug-runner named Charlemagne and numerous conniving "little hoodrats" (maybe they look like cardinals? I don't know, I never went to church) are peppered with the language of the lapsed Catholic having second thoughts. Some end up bad, some not so bad. There but for the grace of...
-- Mickey Maracas
(here's an mp3 of 'Stevie Nix' by the Hold Steady)