Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rock N' Roll True Believing With The Hold Steady

I’ve ceased to be a true believer in rock n’ roll. It’s happened mainly because of a couple of factors. Of course, there’s my ever deepening love of soul, r&b and more recently, jazz, which has taken my ears in new and different directions. The other thing is that I’ve found very little rock in the past 10-15 years that’s I’ve connected to. Alt-rock, in the abstract, has bored me to tears for years. (To listen to modern rock radio is an exercise in self-flagellation) Emo and post-hardcore strikes me less as coherent genres then persistent and long winded complaints. And indie-rock, despite providing many fine albums that I’ve enjoyed over the years, has a certain joylessness; operating under a constraint of studied indifference that while perennially in fashion to the eternally cool everywhere, leaves me more than a little cold. And the rock vanguard's obsession with texture at the expense of song craft has alienated me from the most heralded bands of the day (Wilco, Radiohead, etc).

So I want to love a band like the Hold Steady, a band that’s courageous enough to wear their heart and vulnerabilities on their collective sleeve and smart enough to know the very-fine-line they need to walk if they’re going to pull off being a band of rock n’ roll true believers in 2008. I’ve spent the last couple of days listening non-stop to their new album, Stay Positive, hoping to be inspired by it; enjoying it and even admiring it; but more often than not, wanting more, feeling like this is a good band who have the best of intentions, but are in search of great songs.

But I have to give credit where credit is due. “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Joke About Jamaica” are both excellent, and if the other tracks don’t always reach the level of the sublime, there aren’t any outright clunkers either. Craig Finn’s vocals may be an acquired taste, but in a world of vocalists who don’t even pretend to mean what they sing, I have to recognize. The piano arpeggios are reminiscent of E Street without being a direct rip and the guitars and drums crash and roar in the best way.

It’s hard to fight a battle when the war was lost a long time ago. But what can a rock n’ roll true believer do but sing for a rock n’ roll band? There’s a nobility in the Hold Steady’s music and in their willingness to put passion over smarts, they occasionally, dare I say it, are a soulful rock n' roll band.


Eve Siegel said...

ben - why no downloads?

Ben Lazar said...

The album isn't out until mid-July. Didn't feel like getting any cease and desist letters from their label.

Anonymous said...

FYI - go see them live. they're great.

Anonymous said...

Protecting Your Rights on the Internet
Tel 44-(0)208-323 8013
Fax 44-(0)208 323 8080

Hi Ben,

On behalf of Rough Trade, Beggars Digital and The Hold Steady, many thanks for plugging "Stay Positive" (street date 15th July) ... .. thanks, also, on behalf of the label and the band for not posting any pirate links to unreleased (studio) material and, if you / your readers want good quality, non-pirated, preview tracks, “Sequestered in Memphis” is available for fans and bloggers to stream / link to on the band’s MySpace ... .. check-out and for details on “Stay Positive” and the band’s 2008 shows and keep an eye out for details of further, preview material and exclusive content.

Thanks again for your plug and words of "download" advice.



Brian said...

You are missing a couple of really great tracks--Stay Positive and Lord I'm Discouraged are two unbelievably good songs. I can't understand how you are missing this band--not just their intentions but the execution. Finn is the best lyricist in a band right now and Tad Kubler's playing and writing are killing.
I remember sitting in the office next to yours and digging all of the same bands. This is supposed to be the next one.
Keep listening.