The Hold Steady's new album, Boys and Girls in America, might just be the best thing to happen to American rock'n'roll since ... well, since America slowed down on listening to straight-ahead, classic-bred rock, a la Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. The Hold Steady have garnered a profusion of comparisons to the likes of Springsteen, what with singer Craig Finn's working-class lyrics, the band's big sound, and the necessity for critics to continually provide listeners with reference points. It's true, though; fans of Springsteen will probably find something to love about The Hold Steady's hook-ladened, piano-infused sound. But so will fans of anything that rocks and is simultaneously heart-felt, raucous and bar-friendly.
The album begins with "Stuck Between Stations," where Finn proclaims, "Boys and girls in America/they have such a sad time together." The line, taken from Jack Kerouac's On The Road, cues up an album's worth of Finn's unique tales about flesh-and-blood characters who just want to "walk around and drink some more" ("The Party Pit"). The boys and girls in his songs "come from miles around / to get messed up on the music" and end up in the "Chillout Tent" after taking too many pills; they spend "the whole week getting high" after betting on the right horse in a race ("Chips Ahoy"); they live their lives inebriated and in love. Finn's lyrics are fascinating, in that he doesn't promote this particular way of life--he chronicles it, like a poet.
The Hold Steady have come out with three new, full-length records in the last three years. In a recent interview with the online music site www.pitchforkmedia.com, Finn describes the band as having a "process that works," in which guitarist Tad Kubler brings his arena-ready riffs to the table, and in turn Finn provides the lyrics/vocals. This collaborative approach to songwriting has generated a virtually perfect, rockin' album Boys and Girls in America, and we can only hope for more in the future.