A Glorious Return To Form
The Hold Steady are back on fine form with a triumphant fourth LP that takes their rocking, party and religion-fuelled confessional songs to new heights. While 'Boys and Girls In America' felt a little more disconnected than the band's previous albums, which were full of themes and recurring characters, 'Stay Positive' regains this smart cohesion again with glimpses of the same kinds of characters messed up by religion or alcohol, again looking for their salvation
Opener, 'Contructive Summer' evokes Springsteen-esque gritty glory with its defiant call of, "Raise a glass to Saint Joe Strummer/ I think he may have been our only decent teacher". 'Yeah Sapphire' is another fine example of this upbeat, driving rock with a ringing guitar riff that turns rough in the feisty chorus.
The greatest strengths of The Hold Steady are showcased in glowing form here; the delightfully warm vignettes full of quirky details remain and the fierce rock sensibilities ring out full of epic quality. The Hold Steady's greatest talent is taking everyday activities and creating inspirational records that are down to earth enough to have a real resonance.
'One For The Cutters' features some theatrical keyboard playing and fluttering harpsichord with wonderful swelling crescendos at each new turn in the story of murder and intrigue. When the wonderful lyric, "When one townie falls in the forest, can anyone hear him?" is delivered with tense gravity; it's enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. 'Both Crosses' is another of these dramatic and quirky numbers with an brooding backing of haunting, ripping guitars and gripping lyrics, "She's been with a couple of boys who died and two of them were crucified, and the last one had enlightened eyes, the first guy he was Jesus Christ".
'Lord, I'm Discouraged' is the gorgeous, stadium-rock ballad, complete with glassy guitar, soothing backing vocals and a big, twiddly guitar solo in the coda. 'Stay Positive' is a real deal stadium tune, the kind that rallies together its audience with a rousing chorus and fearsome cry, "We've got to stay positive", as well as sing-alongable backing chant on "woohoo". Closer, 'Slapped Actress' is well deserving of its place as the finale; it's furious, chugging guitars and pretty melodic sections.
'Stay Positive' is bursting full of luscious anthems and energised rock with a poetic twist. In fact it's easily one of the most fun-filled and exciting albums of the year so far.