The Hold Steady: Stay Positive

If albums are educational metaphors, Almost Killed Me was junior high, Separation Sunday was high school, and Boys and Girls in America was definitely college. Stay Positive leads itself into the working world—where all is a little bit darker, a little more reserved, and if it's possible for the Hold Steady, a little more nostalgic.

Even from the first second, the album blasts into greatness with "Constructive Summer," featuring their signature energizing guitars and uplifting piano—a frequent tool, and often stylistically typical of Springsteen, who is a hero of Craig Finn's. "Sequestered in Memphis" is a catchy rock yarn on the lam, leading inescapably to intermittent repeat in your brain. The climbing, madrigal organ of "One for the Cutters" is unique to their style, and "Joke About Jamaica" is a darkly nostalgic tale of a former groupie that recalls an old classic-rock party scene, complete with Frampton-esque vocoder touches. "Two Crosses" has what sounds like Zeppelinesque mandolin flourishes but is actually a banjo, provided by Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis. And while all their influences add up, the Hold Steady manage to stay original, even while name-checking their own previous work slyly throughout the album.

The album is no match for Boys and Girls in America's moments of powerful, emotional inspiration, but that's not to say that Positive isn't inspired. And what it lacks in vigor, it makes up in the always-consistent songwriting and storytelling of Finn and the first-edition newsworthiness of the entire band. With their continuous output and the quality of their catalog, they are going to be around for years to come—and that kind of staying power is hard to come by these days.

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