Probably the best bar band in the world ever are back with their literate indie rock and roll.
The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever
“Oh…where for art thou Franz” is the first thing which stands out on first listen to Heaven Is Whenever. Without it’s moustache sporting keyboard maestro many of the backing vocal led woah-a-woah-a-longs have gone and its seriously blunted their pop edge. Replacing them are bigger riffs which I would normally lap up, yet something doesn’t feel right. Their classic rock sound is fuzzier than usual and sounds like it was recorded in a tube tunnel. The production is purposefully more alternative than previous outings and I have to say I’m not a fan.
This is not saying Hold Steady have lost their touch completely. Tunes like ‘Soft In The Center’ & ‘Rock Problems’ are still packed with attention grabbing melodies and Craig Finn’s lyrical gift is more than a good reason to give this a try.
What the album is missing is some urgency despite the amping up of the record! The majority of the tracks ramble along in a mid-tempo groove that fails to pick-up when the going gets tedious. Even their ballads have lost their poignancy displaying vividly the hole left by their enigmatic piano player. A good album by anyone else’s standards, but for The Hold Steady this can only be a disappointment.
Mr Flowers Says:
The album starts with the relative slow-burners, Sweet Part Of The City and Soft In The Center, which give you an idea of what the album offers: less action, less excitement and probably fewer of those massive nights.
Now minus a keyboardist, the Steady seem to have compensated with crunchier guitars and a higher solo quota, with varying degrees of success. The Weekenders comes closest to getting back to the sound that made the band so well loved, while there’s some hope for the new formula with the rocky riffage and nice use of the cow bells in The Smidge, and the sweet solo in Rock Problems. Listening out for the numerous name-checks of We Can Get Together is amusing for a minute or so, but the song meanders and never reaches the sweet spot. It signals a string of similarly disappointing songs where a noticeable lack of hook works to the band’s detriment and unfortunately ends up defining the album.
It’s a shame it’s ended up like this, as previous Hold Steady albums would have gotten some 8s, 9s and even 10s on these pages. Let’s just hope the downward trend shown in this album isn’t part of some systemic problem for this much-loved band.
DoesItRock Overall Score: 6/10