fri 20/09/2019

The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion | reviews, news & interviews

The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion

The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion

A joyous return to form from the world's best bar band

Craig Finn's cast of misfits and dropouts must surely be getting their own miniseries any day now

At recent live shows, Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn has taken to describing the band’s current lineup as the best it’s ever been. Boosted to a six-piece by the return of Franz Nicolay on keyboards, the Hold Steady of the band’s latter-day London residencies has been well worth the annual 800-mile round-trip: celebratory; poignant; communal; joyous. Thrashing Thru the Passion takes all of these moods, combines five of the tracks released digitally over the past 18 months with five new ones, and the result is the band’s tightest and most fun album since 2008’s Stay Positive.

“Denver Haircut” opens the album with a typically vivid character sketch by Finn, whose cast of misfits and dropouts must surely be getting their own miniseries any day now. “He said you’re catching me at a transitional time,” says our omniscient narrator, as his protagonist shaves his head and connects with more than just a flight in an airport bar. Later on we peek in on drug deals gone wrong, hipsters aged out of the scene and the brave sartorial choice of a “t-shirt tux and a piano key tie”. It’s all served with the usual side order of religious references and one-night bad ideas (“mutually assured destruction is oftentimes a no-brainer”); the punkish speak-sing that characterised Finn’s performances on earlier records elevated this time, more often than not, to a storyteller’s drawl.

But as the quieter vignettes on the trilogy of solo albums Finn rounded off earlier this year showed, it takes more than a voice to sound like The Hold Steady. Nicolay’s keys are a welcome re-addition, whether taking centre stage on piano-driven confessional “Blackout Sam” or as the secret sauce that elevates portrait of mid-life ennui “You Did Good Kid”. A four-piece horn section fleshes out the former to a delicious crescendo, and adds mischief to the chorus of “The Stove and the Toaster” before things get dark (it’s where the stash was located, if you were wondering) and Steve Selvidge and Tad Kubler’s swirling guitars pick up the refrain. Recent live favourite “Entitlement Crew” is a pure punch of fist-in-the-air nostalgia; while “Traditional Village” embraces those early Springsteen comparisons to end in a trip all the way down E-Street.

Lisa-Marie Ferla's website

Below: listen to "Denver Haircut" by The Hold Steady

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