The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
What is it with American bands at the moment? They seem to be able to produce bands that make music which bares no resemblance to fashion or fad, just records which sound great. The Hold Steady are no exception. This, their debut album in the UK, is a unfashionable mix of Springsteen's Born To Run channelled through the more excessive elements of 80's rock. This is all augmented by Craig Finn's amazing ability to write lyrics which sound like, on this album at least, 11 great American novels all spun together.
From the opening guitar chords, which systematically get bolstered by piano and drums, Stuck Between Stations starts the album as it means to go on. Finn's gruff voice squeezes the lyrics into place, he's got so much to say it doesn't matter if he rushes it, he just needs to say it and with such great lines as "She was a really cool kisser but she wasn't all that strict of a Christian", who can blame him.
The added bonus is that these amazingly literate lyrics are shoe-horned into some great music. There's some Thin Lizzy chords during Chips Ahoy and I dare anyone to listen to this without watching their foot involuntary start tapping - it's impossible not to, the whole rhythm of the album is geared to good times and whilst some of the songs might deal with the down side of excessiveness, it feels like the soundtrack to a boozy weekend.
It's not all killer though, Party Pit sounds like a throw away song that doesn't really get beyond an idea, it doesn't feel as fully formed as the other songs here. There's also the American-centric nature of the album as a whole. Initially, I found it a little hard to get in to, all these cultural references that, being a Brit, I just don't get. But with continual listens the album opened up to reveal depths that were previously hidden, the songs become all embracing and you can't help but submerge yourself in all those words and hulking riffs.
As with any great album, the best is saved till last, South Town Girls with it's opening refrain of "South town girls won't blow you away, but you know that they'll stay" it builds into an epic anthem which will doubtless end up on countless compilations the world over. It might be a song that advocates that second best is good enough, but it sounds reassuring whilst saying that.
This may be directed at the Boys and Girls in America, but it's a universally applicable album that's just a plain joy to listen to and one in which, like a good book, you can immerse yourself in.