The Hold Steady - Heaven Is Whenever
Heaven is Whenever finds The Hold Steady at a career crossroads. Having lost the superb keyboard skills of Franz Nicolay they have chosen not to replace him and instead produce a straight up guitar-led rock record. While this works reasonably well for the most part you can’t help feeling that some nicely placed keyboard breaks would elevate some of these fairly standard bar-room rock tunes into the glorious anthems we have become used to.
‘The Sweet Part Of The City’ opens up the album with a lovely, slide guitar-led ballad that leads us to believe that any initial worries would soon be dismissed and we soon move in to the standard Hold Steady themes of partying, drink and girls. This is all well and good but, sadly, the music doesn’t always back up the clever and witty lyrics and most of the songs seem to merge in to one another. Mid way through we get the appropriately titled ‘Rock Problems’ that simply exaggerates the problem with a lot of this album: great lyrics put to an overproduced and slightly lacking soundtrack. Luckily this is swiftly followed by the gentle beauty of album highlight ‘We Can Get Together’, a ballad about the sheer joy of listening to a lovers record collection. If only everything else was as good then this would be a contender for album of the year, but we return to the standard formula until album closer ‘A Slight Discomfort’. Although one of the highlights it finishes off with some sparse piano playing that emphasises what has been missing.
Despite all of this Heaven Is Whenever is not a bad album, far from it, there is just an inescapable feeling is that something, or someone is missing. Five albums into a career that seemed to be on an inexorable rise we are left with the sense that this is a band that could easily fall back to their more humble beginnings.