The Hold Steady write songs about people we hope to never become. On “Denver Haircut”—the opening track to the Brooklyn band’s seventh album Thrashing Thru The Passion—the narrator gets involved with a woman looking for PCP. On “T-Shirt Tux” a boyfriend does a handshake with the doorman to get “the stuff that makes him feel so important.” These people are trapped and there’s little reason to think anything will change.
Does all this sound familiar? It should—literally. The Hold Steady have released five of the album’s 10 tracks over the past couple of years. Yet Thrashing makes as solid a statement as the band’s best work. That’s surely helped by the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, whose playing adds a barroom jubilance to songs like “Blackout Sam” and “You Did Good, Kid.”
That’s not all. Horns blare like an adrenaline rush on the ebullient “Epaulets,” while a classic rock guitar riff rocks out the ending of “The Stove & The Toaster.”
And Craig Finn, man. He’s a storyteller that spares no detail, altering between sympathetic observer and frontline confessor. On “Epaulets,” he and a woman wearing a general’s coat dread life once their restroom high is gone. “It’s sweet ’cause I’m a sucker for the dictator chic / And I’m good with the irregular heartbeats.” In this way, I’m reminded of the writer Denis Johnson, who always found poetry in the unfortunate.
At one point on “Star 18” Finn reflects how the band once opened for The Rolling Stones. “Hold Steady at the Comfort Inn / Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin.” Seven albums in, their status is unlikely to change. But who cares? The brilliance of The Hold Steady lies in their ability to make the stories of the unnoticed listenable, even enjoyable. They’ll keep doing so until the end of days.
Score: 🏢🏢🏢🏢 / 5