Monday, September 08, 2008

Trying to Stay Positive about Stay Positive

Critics who complained that Craig Finn's lyrics on Boys and Girls were too much about drinking down by the banks of the Mississippi River may be relieved to learn that he and his friends now drink on top of water towers. It's a step up, I guess. The only songs that really touch me on Stay Positive are "Lord I'm Discouraged" and the last of the bonus tracks, a countryish lament about aging called "Two Handed Handshake".

Recent converts to the Hold Steady who work their way backward through the band's catalog may feel that Craig Finn talks too much on the older songs, but I wish he'd sing less on the new ones. I liked his stories about characters (Holly, Gideon and Charlemagne) and places (the Party Pit, Penetration Park, and Ybor City) better than the radio-ready singalongs like "Massive Nights" and "Constructive Summer".

The sound on Stay Positive is too crowded and garish to my ears. The songs are stuffed to the gills with overwrought keyboards and the forced enthusiasm of the backup singers. Tad Kubler tries his hand at mandolin, banjo, and even a talk-box solo. The dudes at Guitar Center will be impressed.

My older son's teacher is a fan of the Drive-By Truckers, and she will be seeing them with the Hold Steady this fall. She hasn't heard the Hold Steady, so I made her a CD. I front-loaded it with "Hoodrat" and "The Swish", and stuck a few of the newer songs on the end, but the meat in the sandwich is Separation Sunday. All the songs on that album are so good from beginning to end, and the stories they tell are provocative -- sometimes moving, sometimes disturbing. I don't know if the Hold Steady will ever make a better album than Separation Sunday.


At 9/12/2008 7:45 PM , Blogger Happy In Bag said...

Stay Positive almost killed me.

Like you, I was extremely disappointed. However, it's really grown on me since I bought it the day of its release.

The "bonus" tracks at the end really help.

At 9/17/2008 11:51 AM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

I got it upon release too, and I was trying to give it time to grow on me before I said anything. I know how much weight my opinion carries around the bloggersphere.

At 9/19/2008 2:08 PM , Blogger PCarino said...

Interesting--this was the first Hold Steady album that really struck me, right outta the gate.

At 9/20/2008 8:26 PM , Blogger jonderneathica said...

You're a musician, Paula -- do you think it was well-produced? There are a number of negative comments about the sound from Amazon customers. Which of the songs do you like best? I still want to like it...

At 9/22/2008 5:32 PM , Anonymous Glenn said...

I'm with you a hundred percent. Separation Sunday has both the songwriting and the production they should be aiming for. Still, I like "Constructive Summer," "Stay Positive," and "Joke About Jamaica" quite a bit. And I'm holding out hope for this new one--every time I listen to Boys & Girls, which I hated at first, I discover another song that I love. Maybe Stay Positive will get there.


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