The Hold Steady: Boys And Girls In America

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Paddy Hoey argues the case for his record of 2007…


Few universally lauded albums of recent times have divided opinion among ‘real people’ more than the aforementioned, ’Steady.
Five star reviews and foaming eulogies in the quality rock monthlies seemed sure to secure their star in that most clichéd of fictional places – the rock firmament.
After one listen of album lead-off track Stuck Between Stations on Colin Murray’s radio show, I was sold – another of those ‘where you been all my life, baby?’ moments that rock fandom throws-up from time to time.
And I had no doubt that everyone I recommended it to would rush and buy their own copy, so sure was I of its instant classic status.
Alas, as many said ‘Welllllll, still not quite sure there, Bubba,’ while shaking their hand to signify they were still wavering.
But there is no room for that kind of lily-livered, shilly-shallying with me over Boys And Girls In America – album of the year bar none and you can stick that up your LCD Soundsystem if you don’t like it.
New Jersey-based, Minneapolis-raised, The Hold Steady are a genuinely life affirming blast of all that is great in US rock – what you imagined America should sound like when you were young and knew no better.
BAGIA fuses fabulous, beautiful lyrics by songwriter vocalist Craig Finn with brilliant Springsteen meets The Replacements rock, an interesting proposition for those with taste for Americana.
But, what sets this part from being just another good Alt.Rock or Alt.Americana album a la Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes etc, is the evocative stories (in the manner of Springsteen or Tom Waits) which course through Finn’s lyrics.
His conversational style of singing suits his songs which burst to life with pithy vignettes of US underclass life. Second single Chips Ahoy tells of a girl who can predict the winners of horse races and who gets real high from her winnings; in Party Pit a punk kid gets pimped out at the local indie club and in Chill Out Tent a boy and girl get together in medical facilities after minor drug overdoses at a festival,
“He quoted her some poetry/ He’s Tennyson in denim and sheepskin/ He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin/ They started kissing when the nurses took off their IVs/ It was kind of sexy but it was kind of creepy…â€?
No-one’s writing lyrics that good over here. What’s more BAGIA probably isn’t as good as the band’s second record, 2006’s Separation Sunday, a loose concept album based around the drinkers and druggies Finn observed in the Minneapolis punk scene.
On that Finn wears his Springsteen credentials like a tattoo while writing the best line in rock lyrics of last year: “Tramps like us/ And we like trampsâ€?.
A few of the hardcore Steady fans cite 2005’s Almost Killed Me as the band’s best, and to return to clichés – what is sure is that there is something for everyone somewhere on all three albums.
And, riddle me this, how many top line British indie favourites have produced three brilliant albums in three years, with the third arguably as good as either of the other two? You can stop squinting like an imbecile, I’ll answer that: NONE.
Finn and the Steady haemorrhage high quality songs with indecent haste, at a rate which surely can’t continue – no-one stays this consistently brilliant for this long.

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