JTM Grade: 85%
Stay Positive, the fourth full-length from The Hold Steady, doesn't reinvent the wheel so much as showcase a band in its prime, hitting us in full stride with perfectly crafted rock 'n roll. The Hold Steady aren't a rock band, they are a "rock 'n roll" band and willfully embrace every connotation that suggests. They revel in their bar-band aesthetic and low-brow approach. Yet, who are we kidding? They're hipsters and their fans are, too. But I do believe that Craig Finn is sincerely interested in having fun, with a few ballads for good measure.
And there is much fun to be had on the new album. Hold Steady records have an irresitable charm and energy, despite subject matter that tends towards the drug-ridden and fatalistic. Stay Postive is no different, and even refinces Craig Finn's knack for blending irony with sincerity without batting an eye. This time out, some new instruments are added into the mix (e.g. harpsichord, mandolin, etc.) and I'm especially tickled to hear the unapologetic 80's guitar solos. Interestingly, there is a marked decline in Minnesota-centric references but Finn continues to drop mundane details by the dozen. In a search for criticism, I admit they're becoming a tad formulaic, crafting rock 'n roll songs like widgets. Even the song structures are molded perfectly, consistently featuring the best bridges of any rock songs in recent memory. It's hard to criticize them for being too deliberate about this. They do this better than just about anyone else, so why complain? It's working and for me, this is just the rock 'n roll my summer needed.
Favorite track so far: 'Joke About Jamaica.'
Stay Positive comes out on July 15th and you can catch 'em live at First Avenue a week later.