“Movies and Krishna and hardcore and Jesus and joyÛ
If (as a poster in my 11th grade English teacher’s room claimed) Bruce Springsteen is Steinbeck in leather, then surely The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn is Fitzgerald in a Twins jersey. Instead of writing about the wild excess of the Lost Generation, Finn spins yarns about the 80s hardcore and indie rock scene, half-nostalgically, half-cautionary, celebrating the visceral joys of the scene while mourning all the ways it was too bloody and druggy. Teeth Dreams, while still celebratory, sees Finn in probably the most regretful mood he’s ever put on record; _Separation Sunday_’s camp on the bank of the Mississippi River has turned into a bunker, its residents are sleeping in gas masks and bullet-proof vests, and all of those benders that end with a moment of clarity and tremendous, lifelong realizations? Now, they end with waking up in Houston, feeling “nothing,” and resigning yourself to drinking in the back of a movie theater in the middle of the day.
That’s not to say Teeth Dreams is a total bummer of an album. In fact, The Hold Steady haven’t sounded this exuberant since 2006. Yes, the band teamed up with Foo Fighters and post-grunge/alt metal producer Nick Raskulinecz, sending their more independently inclined fans into a tizzy, and yes, much has been made about the groups supposed new commitment to arena ready “big rock.” But at their core, The Hold Steady are still committed to writing a positive jam, about taking the urgency and energy of the music they loved as youths and making it friendly and blue-collar enough to play in Peoria. Despite the at times muddled mix and overproduced vocals, The Hold Steady maintain their identity as America’s favorite bar band, sometimes entertainingly so; there’s something delightfully subversive about “The Ambassador,” a glorified post-grunge ballad that’s one of the album’s weaker tracks, where Finn still manages to sneak in lines about a bed full of blood and a Satan worshipping tire store employee. Musically, the group seemed a bit lost on their last album after the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, but by adding a third guitarist (Lucero’s Steve Selvidge) on Teeth Dreams they create a slightly different formula for themselves centered on bigger, louder riffs. Despite the hot licks, Teeth Dreams is arguably the most melodic ever album ever put out by The Hold Steady; Finn half-sings more than he half-talks, and Selvidge brings some jangly, almost Peter Buck-esque guitar lines to the table, which are juxtaposed perfectly with Tab Kubler’s bulldozering riffs. Witty, frenzied and still all about celebration, Teeth Dreams finds The Hold Steady and the beginning of an exciting new chapter of their career, but no less devoted to the sound and stories that made us all fall in love with them in the first place.
RIYL: The Replacements, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists The Gaslight Anthem, Getting in touch with your inner burnt out, towney bar fly Recommended: 2, 3, 6-10