I put on this record, and there it is, that Midwest sing - speak and the master of lyrics:
Said you’re kinda catching me at a transitional time
I’m a bright light burning into a dark horse
She said I’ll strap on the saddle, and I’m sorry about this city’s a cesspool…
So launches ‘Denver Haircut,’ the first song on Thrashing Through The Passion, and I feel like I’m hanging with my old friends. There was a time when The Hold Steady was, in my opinion, the absolute best band in America. I’ve seen them five times, and they are always, always excellent.
It’s been years since their last LP, Teeth Dreams, which I don’t believe holds up as well as the earlier records. But The Hold Steady seem revitalized on Thrashing, retaining the twin guitar attack of Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge, the same rhythm section of Galen Polivka (bass) and Bobby Drake (drums) rejoined by keyboardist Franz Nicolay. The secret sauce, as always, is provided by vocalist/truth teller Craig Finn.
Apparently five of the songs on Thrashing have been released as digital singles. I’m a huge fan, but I didn’t follow those releases, so the whole record is new to me, and it’s coherent and amazing. ‘Epaulets’ is augmented by a cool horn arrangement. ‘You Did Good Kid’ has a nifty chime pattern, with Finn going on about a lovable loser:
The drifters in the kitchen /Were thrashing thru the passion
Boys, let's try to keep it on the carpet
You wouldn't be so impressed with the sunrise
If it wasn't for the darkness
‘Blackout Sam’ has that classic barroom Hold Steady intro with a similar loser lyric:
Now promise me you won't forget
The nights that haven't happened yet
Separate the smoke from all the cinders
Put another sticker on the van
Carpet at the party house, tear it up and take it out
Somebody should check on Blackout Sam
‘Entitlement Crew’ has a great palm-muted guitar and standard Hold Steady progression, well punctuated with horn stabs and Nicolay’s cheesy organ sound. 'Star 18’ sounds like a track from Stay Positive, or in other words a great Hold Steady song. Slashing power chords married to Finn’s spoken story lyrics, and a classic-rock/Zeppelin guitar solo. This is a Finn tale of warning for a female friend:
The amphetamines did what the amphetamines do
And she was chewing through her cheek at the National Zoo
And the dress she was wearing made a nice case for natural
So, hold steady at the Comfort Inn
Mick Jagger's at the Mandarin
Once you get good, you can get it wherever you are
Notify the next of kin
Mariel Hemingway with perfect skin
And some creep with a camera who said he's gonna make you a star
You gotta wait in the car
‘The Stove And The Toaster’ is a tale of on-the-margins behavior, rocking again with a horn arrangement, and the rock solid guitar pyro solo.
The Hold Steady is easily described as Thin Lizzy paired with egghead storytelling. Craig Finn is no singer, but his lyrical and storytelling gifts are so much better than most bands it’s laughable. This is a triumphant return for a great band. It’s good to see and hear my old friends again.