The Hold Steady may have emerged in the early 2000’s yet what set them apart from the other (also amazing) bands which emerged from NY in that era, was that their sound seemed to come from a different inspirational source completely, less spiky garage rock, preferring instead to drink from a similar well as Springsteen when it came to guitar tunes and lyrical cues. A mid western group transplanted in N.Y. creating vivid lyrical pictures of everyday characters and their situations.

The melodies running throughout their latest album, ‘The Price Of Progress’, are as unashamedly uplifting as ever, yet in true Hold Steady style, the lyrics reflect lives falling apart, tales of redemption, and a host of intriguing characters whose stories you are immediately involved in. 

Opener ‘Grand Junction’ tells a tale of pure escapism with a Bonnie and Clyde storyline at the centre of the lyrical wordplay, two runaways making a break for it in desperate times, whereas ‘Sideways Skull’ finds vocalist Craig Finn weaving a story about a woman in rehab trying to relive past glories “They let her smoke, but she can’t have matches, after last week’s pyro disaster” Finn recounts, as the tale of the faded musician in a halfway house continues, with the central characters telling tall tales in the kitchen of past or imagined encounters: “I rolled my eyes at the ritual lies, maybe half of that happened”, Finn recalls, all set to a feisty backdrop of hugely melodic guitar lines courtesy of guitarists Steve Selvidge and Tad Kubler, plus keyboards from Franz Nicolay and a frenetic rhythmic partnership from bassist Galen Polivka and drummer Bobby Drake.

‘Understudies’ is another enticing plot driven song, recalling the tale of an actor, a theatre gaffer, and drugs connection, “when a star is born a habit begins forming, it’s hard to get to sleep after performing” in typical Hold Steady fashion, the dark underbelly of these characters lives is revealed as the song unfolds.  ‘Flyover Halftime’ tells the tale of a drunken day out, escapism from the drudgery of the day job “you’re gonna go rabid if you get bitten by the rat race” Finn sings, all based around a narrative involving watching an American Football game which then takes an unexpected twist –  it’s a Hold Steady song after all, what else did you expect?

Other characters scattered throughout ‘The Price Of Progress’ include a nostalgic ex-skater with depression, tied up in the daily grind of working life, and a pill popping office worker trying to make friends in her apartment building, with the band never failing to capture the faded dreams of the people who are the centrepiece of their tunes. Everyone of these tunes would fit perfectly in a musical, they’re that intensively narrative based, matched with soaring choruses and melodies. 

The Hold Steady have managed to capture the nuances of everyday life, in a host of beguiling characters and their circumstances, then embedded these tales in uplifting guitar led songs, joyous melodies dwelling in sharp contrast to the darker tinged lyrics. If Finn wasn’t a lyricist, you get the feeling he’d be writing novels, delving into plots and subplots with glimpses into the wrong side of town and the lives lived on the edge. ‘The Price Of Progress’ is another enthralling blast of tall tales and glorious guitar tunes from one of America’s finest bands around.

The Hold Steady: The Price Of Progress – Out 31st March 2023 (Positive Jams / Thirty Tigers)

The Hold Steady – Sideways Skull Video

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.