America you're so fine, you're so fine, you blow my mind, America.
Americans sure like to rock, even more so in a poppy and commercial way. Over here there used to be strong suspicion about bands that throttle their guitars up to the max but still want to get their tunes whistled by milkmen. Until recent times America blurred the whole world, it was one or the other.
If you liked your guitars loud, then you kicked arse and the vocals had to be screamed and be all about taking daughters to slaughters and sons to nuns (it had to be family related and it had to rhyme, that was the rules.) If you didn't, well frankly, who cares, you probably felt Steps were cutting edge. Nowadays though, oh that's all changed and The Hold Steady seem as though they are primed to cash in on the horrific decline of the UK record buyer (or downloader.)
The opening track of The Hold Steady's album quickly brings to mind Meatloaf and Elton John such is the grandiose and theatrical feel of the performance. In modern Britain, both of these acts are getting some commercial and critical praise with acts like the Scissor Sisters, The Killers and The Feeling openly admitting their influence. However, neither of these acts kick in with a guitar intro that sounds as if it has been nicked from Status Quo. And when the first guitar riff on your album takes from Status Quo, where else can you go from there?
Down, down, deeper and down is the only answer.
It's almost like the 1980s never went away. 'Chips Ahoy' (not a tribute, as far as can be seen, to the US TV cop show featuring Erik Estrada) sounds like a combination of Van Halen and Bruce Springsteens 'Born To Run.' If you listen closely, you will probably be able to still hear my teeth grinding at the throwback commercial nature of this song, it would be like drinking a family size bottle of Sunny Delight and then knocking back half a bag of Silver Spoon, such is the sugar on show.
That's not to say there aren't moments on this record that don't deserve to be heard. 'Same Kooks' is a must-listen, its American take on Cockney punk hasn't been heard since Axl Rose felt a UK accent was what was missing from one of the old-school covers on 'The Spaghetti Incident?' And before then, it hadn't been heard since Dick Van Dyke in a Disney film. If the chorus of 'Same Kooks' ran "chim-chim-chiminy, chim-chim-cheroo" then it may have been a contender for song of the year, sadly, it falls a bit short of that due to this omission.
And worryingly, there's no greater cohesion or upgrade in quality from here on. There's the impression that every track was written with the specific intention of sound tracking a scene of a young teen drama where Brandon, Stella and Jan are fretting over the re-appearance of their long-last father and of who stole the last bottle of sun tan lotion. It's Sunday morning music for people whose Sundays don't stretch beyond Channel 4 or E4 or More4. The ever present chugging guitar line remains throughout, creating that sense of tension just needed for that difficult scene where peoples lives come down to one decision. Stay or run? Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
If this reminds you of your life, then fantastic, this one album will save you buying a bundle of records as it will tell you what to feel about so many different emotions, just by the different emotion conveyed by the guitar.
If however you have a life, leave well alone.