April 29, 2004

Test Spin: The Hold Steady

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The Hold Steady begin their debut with a surprisingly astute and comprehensive summary of the twentieth century: “We came back in the ’40s/ and there were wheelchairs, guns, and tickertape/ We poured it on the floor/ and we made love to the interstate.”

Clearly an ambitious band. The sound is the perfect complement: a tremendous burlesque of every major guitar-based rock group of the late ’70s, from screwball arena anthems to sincere, confessional Springsteenish storytelling. “The Swish” could be confused with something off High Voltage if lead singer Craig Vinn wasn’t throwing out celebrity names and surrealist urban myths in a buried lo-fi peal. Occasionally, like The Darkness, the irony and sincerity commingle to the point of total repulsion: the goofy piano ballad, “Certain Songs,” is passable at best despite the godhead guitar poses. But there’s nothing wrong with a band that finds the chance to take risks through flattering imitation, and when the band is simultaneously this energetic and insightfully self-referential, it’s an album that gathers depth with each spin.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Red Letter Daze Editor-in-Chief