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The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (Vagrant)

Hold SteadyPopMatters, July 2008

If there’s a nagging conviction behind Stay Positive, it’s a constant refusal to be pinned down on E Street, revealing a toxic indulgence to revel in the spit and swagger of the punk side of town.

And you thought the Hold Steady were just living on E Street? Littered with early Springsteen analogies ever since they broke through with the bar room tales of Boys and Girls in America, Craig Finn has constantly referred to the debt his band owes to the likes of the Ramones, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, only for critics to remain defiant of their origins in favour of references to the New Jersey Godfather. If there’s a nagging conviction behind Stay Positive, the Hold Steady’s fourth album, it’s a constant refusal to be pinned down on E Street, revealing a toxic indulgence to revel in the spit and swagger of the punk side of town.

While Stay Positive proves that Finn and co. still love to get with the E Street shuffle, the first crashing notes of “Constructive Summer”, the record’s charged opener, are a “White Riot”-style riff that Mick Jones would be proud of. The tingling piano and made-for-arena drums that follows may be pure Springsteen, but only after he’s been dragged through a dozen chaotic bars by Finn, all the time regaling the Boss with the genius of Bob Mould. Seventeen seconds into “Constructive Summer” and Finn has already dropped an Iggy Pop reference:

Me and my friends are like the drums on Lust for Life
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs

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