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THE HOLD STEADY - Stay Positive (Vagrant) - noise_floor [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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THE HOLD STEADY - Stay Positive (Vagrant) [Jul. 13th, 2008|12:23 pm]
I like the Hold Steady's music, but it largely exists as a backdrop-- or occasionally a scaffold-- to Craig Finn's lyrics, and at first, I thought Stay Positive mostly failed lyrically. The three central Hold Steady characters, Gideon, Holly and Charlemagne, are nowhere to be found. Most of the songs are vivid but maudlin standard-issue Finn scenes: here's a college girl who parties with townies, in legal trouble after someone gets stabbed; here's a guy in love with a girl who's slowly killing herself with drugs; here's, like, fifteen references to Jesus in one song.

But in search of more details about a line in "Two Crosses", I found two things: an interview with Finn in which he says that the album is entirely about the same cast of characters, unnamed to make the task of untangling the narrative more difficult; and a message board thread in which a truly huge number of lyric snippets are cross-referenced and a number of theories (some certainly garbage) are hatched.

Possibly I'm the worst possible sort of listener for this album-- attached enough to the idea of a running inter-song narrative that I miss it, but not so attentive that I got the clues. Nor am I sure why eleven stories about the same themes should bother me more than one eleven-song story with lots of thematic repetition. Maybe Stay Positive's grim theme-- the main thread connecting the songs seems to be a murder-- made me tune out.

Anyway, the music's still bombastic; most of the songs are trying way too hard to sound like climaxes and turning points, and the fact that they might actually be those things only partially mitigates it. What would otherwise be cutely self-referential declarations about music's power to save souls sound defensive. I could see it growing on me (though I've liked it less with repetition, not more) or becoming a valued piece of the overall Hold Steady project (you don't have to listen to read the lyrics!) or being redeemed by the CD-only bonus tracks (Hold Steady b-sides have generally been awesome). But I don't find myself with the boundless patience I had for their last album.

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