The Hold Steady march forward on The Price of Progress
I remember listening to Seperation Sunday, still my favorite album from The Hold Steady, with my dad as a kid. Looking back, it was a little unusual that my dad liked the band as much as he did. He was never a huge fan of artists like Bruce Springsteen or The Band, classic acts that lead singer Craig Finn cites as important inspirations for The Hold Steady.
As I grew older myself and started trying to listen to more classic albums, I really had the opposite experience. I would listen to Springsteen for the first time and think “wow this album really reminds me of The Hold Steady,” when of course it was really the other way around.
My point here is, for a band that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, The Hold Steady have carved out quite an identity within that sound for themselves. Listening to The Price of Progress, that identity is as clear as ever, and boy does it make for some great songs and stories.
Take album opener ‘Grand Junction,’ which both manages to sound exactly like what I expected from this album but also caught me off guard literally within seconds when the synth comes in. The band has always used synths, but tends to employ them in the same way pianos and organs are used in classic rock.
That’s what makes The Hold Steady so interesting. After the initial shock of hearing an ‘80s style synth lead over rumbling drums and crunchy guitars, the rest of ‘Grand Junction’ felt almost as shocking in how it didn’t stand out. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a band with a name like The Hold Steady sticks to their sound, but I still love when they have tracks like this that show those small glimpses of being more than their influences.
Those moments can be found throughout this album, but what stays largely the same here is Craig Finn’s timeless storytelling in full force. As usual, he sings about tales from Minneapolis, building characters in the course of three to five minute songs that have enough depth they wouldn’t feel out of place in a movie.
‘Sixer’ is the song that best exemplifies Finn’s character writing, as he tells the story of two people who live in the same apartment complex. In a quick four minutes, the song establishes its two characters, the way they feel about each other, the one night they ever were close to each other, and the aftermath of that night. Listening to it feels like reading a great short story, which fits right into this album and The Hold Steady’s discography, both of which are chronicles of urban americana.
It all comes to a close on album finale ‘Flyover Halftime,’ a track about going to a football game, seeing your local team get destroyed (‘It’s hard to explain with no emoji indicating despair…’), and a fan running on the field. The experience of randomly going to a sporting event with some friends and seeing the weirdest stuff happen is just about the most dudes rock thing imaginable, further cementing the band’s title as king of the dudes (as bestowed by music writers on Twitter).
The song can feel a little inconclusive narratively; it definitely isn’t the deepest or most emotionally intense story here, but if that doesn’t fit with what The Hold Steady does best, I don’t know what does. It tells a tale of regular people, living in a city, and a moment in their lives that will stick with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most important story, because we can always count on the band to bring us more tales from Minneapolis soon.
Craig Finn and The Hold Steady have delivered yet again on their throwback style of rock and roll, and when that last track ends it does leave the listener wanting more. The album is called The Price of Progress, but to be honest I am not sure what that means here. Yes, the band has continued to iterate on that solid base, but whatever the price is, it is worth it for more Hold Steady.
Haiku Review: Stories of little Minneapolis crooner Everlasting sound