Sunday, October 01, 2006

"And the kids came from miles around to get messed up on the music"

Hello there!

This post is solely dedicated to one of the best records I've heard all year. It's been stuck on my stereo for the past week or so and I just can't get enough, so you can be sure that vomit-inducing hyperbole will most definitely follow. Keep a bucket handy while you read.

I really expected not to like this. Maybe the bumming that Pitchfork is sure to dole out to it at some point this coming week made my contrariness come to the fore. Having already expressed much love for a few P'fork favourites so far this year (Return To Cookie Mountain, Drum's Not Dead, Silent Shout), so perhaps I wanted to dislike The Hold Steady's Boys And Girls In America purely because I don't particularly want to be seen as just following their lead.

Also, as I mentioned to someone before I heard this record, I've always kind of enjoyed The Hold Steady's bar-room rock schtick in the past but found it to be a little grating over the course of an album. Seriously, I'd rather listen to Born To Run than Separation Sunday any day of the week. So it was with this in mind and with my knives sharpened that I stuck Boys And Girls... on for its first spin. The scene went thusly...

First track: head starts nodding about halfway through, coupled with foot-tapping about thirty seconds later. Second track: singing along by the second chorus. Admittedly the chorus consists of "oh-oh-oh"'s alone, but still, I'm singing. Third track: delighted grin starting to spread across my face, head-nodding, foot-tapping and singing intensifies. Fourth track: I'm fucking sold. I'm out of my seat, flinging myself around the room in rapturous, abandon-free, wild movements, knocking over vases, banging into tables and generally causing untoward mayhem. Repeat for tracks five through eleven, interspersed with mini-breakdowns of tears and laughter.

Okay so it didn't quite go like that. I'm not a nut and anyone who actually knows me would know that I was joking. But I was pretty much doing all that stuff in my head. Boys And Girls In America is an immensely enjoyable, massive endorphin rush of an album for anyone who's ever had any kind of fondness for this tradition of American rock music. This is honest-to-goodness American rock 'n' roll guaranteed to alleviate any ennui that listeners may feel towards honest-to-goodness American rock 'n' roll.

This is no overly sincere heart-bleeder however. Craig Finn is way too smart a lyricist to let any kind of over-sentimentalising get in the way of a neat, sharp sardonic line. In past albums Finn's tendency towards hyper-referentialism has ultimately bogged the music down and led to quite severe smart-arsery. Here, he is more concerned with working with the music to drive on the narrative. Where on Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday, Finn felt the need to speak-sing every line, here he often just sings, helping the story coalesce with the tunes more easily, giving the songs a heavier emotional resonance.

Every song here is fantastic and to pick favourites would surely be unfair on the others, but please indulge me while I do so anyway. 'Stuck Between Stations' is a superb opener, breaking out of the traps with a heady sense of familiarity coupled with a feeling that The Hold Steady are doing something new within their well-worn frame. Finn's lyrical obsessions (getting fucked up and falling in love) are all present and correct from the opener in a way that will make fans feel comfortable and win new ones over. You just know that at some point in the summer of '07, some American kid is going to wander into a tattoo parlour, drunk and high and ask for "We drink and we dry up and now we crumble into dust" to be imprinted on his back.

'You Can Make Him Like You''s call-and-response chorus has the winning response of "There's always other boys, there's always other boyfriends"; a line seemingly engineered to be screamed stage-wards at festivals. 'Massive Nights' is a jump-up-and-down, glammy anthem-in-waiting. 'First Night' is a tear-stained ballad of the highest order, trumped only by the later 'Citrus'. That's all before you get to the glorious, fist-pumping double whammy closer of 'Chillout Tent' (a heart-twisting story of getting wasted and finding love in the titular festival necessity) and 'Southtown Girls' which is one of the best finales I've heard on a record in a long, long time.

So, for everyone who's drank, dried up and crumbled into dust, Boys And Girls In America is an absolute must. Just make sure that you remove all breakables from your front room before you blare it out, in case the subsequent windmilling knocks everything west. You need this in your life.

The Hold Steady - You Can Make Him Like You (mp3)


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