The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America (2006): Review

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Produced by John Agnello
Label – Vagrant

The American invasion is coming folks, and it starts here. The bloated blue colour chug from The Hold Steady had already gained head turning critical acclaim across the pond, and now, armed with Jack Kerouac styled rhetoric and “Born To Run” musical influence the Brooklyn five piece are set to roll us “limeys” over before we even get the chance to ask, “who the heck is Sal Paradise anyway?” The “voice” of Indie America, those venerable hipsters at Pitchfork media awarded “Boys And Girls In America” a rating of 9.4, tied with Joanna Newsom’s “Ys” as the highest rated release of 2006. That’s not the only connection either; with both heavily lauded records being led by a singer who couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket if their life depended on it. The excitement and anticipation mounted, with British music magazine “Dylan Monthly”…sorry “Uncut” dispatching chief editor Allan Jones Stateside to salivate over proceedings. He naturally loved it, immediately awarding a maximum 10/10 score and ensuring it would be one of their records of 2007.

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Lyrically, there’s a common thread passing through every moment, a loose concept that entwines the hopeless protagonists of Craig Finn’s tragic melodramas; drugs, drugs and even more drugs. Copious amounts of score, lead losers like Gideon lurching from one song to the next with his empty Pringles can. Every dilemma is created through the use of chemicals and tales of wanton sex, drunken wanderers from lost individuals bereft of morals, ideals or hope. There’s no romantic notion that they’ll step on their ride and head off into the sun, just a hangover, and back to their night job earning just enough to score the next hit. It’s literate, obviously far from celebratory, as Finn unapologetically snapshots a tired, sad teenage America, and for the most part feels realistically intelligent and gritty. His vocals seem to match the statement, weary from the excess and at times incoherent. By the time “Citrus” comes around, he sounds genuinely intoxicated. There’s little doubt that producer John Agnello attempts the Landau/Appel/Springsteen “wall of sound” approach, beefing up the guitars and rhythms, pushing Franz Nicolay’s “Roy Bittan” like keyboard fills up front to maintain any melody that’s lost by Finn’s voice. The bar room chug is given incendiary overdubs attempting to create a celebratory fist in the air to the degenerates who live in the songs. If this musical backdrop attempts to be uplifting then it’s at odds with the lyrical content. There are of course powerful moments; opener “Stuck Between The Stations”, “Chips Ahoy”, “First Night”, “Chillout Tent” and the closer, “Southtown Girls”, but the remainder just doesn’t compel the listener into believing that this is as great as everyone is telling them.

They’re comparing it to the best of the Boss, and the critical adulation is suffocating you into believing the hype, when in reality it’s just a good album with an unquestionably powerful narrative, backed by pretty ordinary music. It reads great as a beat poem though.

7/10

Track Listing

  1. “Stuck Between Stations” – 4:10
  2. “Chips Ahoy!” – 3:09
  3. “Hot Soft Light” – 3:53
  4. “Same Kooks” – 2:47
  5. “First Night” – 4:54
  6. “Party Pit” – 3:56
  7. “You Can Make Him Like You” – 2:48
  8. “Massive Nights” – 2:54
  9. “Citrus” – 2:44
  10. “Chillout Tent” – 3:42
  11. “Southtown Girls” – 5:10
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2 responses to “The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America (2006): Review

    • I like it, it’s a good album but it was suffocated by over hype from the media when it came to the UK which is a shame really, because expectations were never fully fulfilled.

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