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The Hold Steady - Open Door Policy Music Album Reviews

The Hold Steady - Open Door Policy Music Album Reviews
Dark, ominous, but still marching forth with that same bar-rock passion, the Hold Steady feel more unified, making a place for each member within their music’s newfound sprawl.

Like the down-and-out characters in their songs, the Hold Steady have endured some rough years. After building one of the most ardent fanbases in modern rock, the group parted ways with their keyboardist Franz Nicolay in 2010, who claimed he felt like a “fox in a hedgehog band.” While the rest of the Hold Steady come off as rock purists who love double-necked guitars, beer-and-shot specials, and Major League Baseball, Nicolay is a classically-trained polymath who writes essays about Wagner, has an MFA in fiction, and uses an Isaiah Berlin reference to explain how it feels to be in the Hold Steady. The tension between him and the hedgehogs is palpable, the way it was between the gruff genius of Pete Townshend and the pretty face of Roger Daltrey, or the prickly politics of John Lennon and the homespun warmth of Paul McCartney: These mismatches are the secret weapon of great rock‘n’roll bands.
Without their keyboardist, the Hold Steady lost, well, their foxiness. After their initial run of great albums in the 2000s, they released the middling Heaven Is Whenever (2010) and the Hüsker Dü-aping Teeth Dreams (2014). These collections felt like a crash, not a comedown, leaving their fans with no new singalong songs to become their scriptures.

When Franz returned in 2016, so did the band’s cleverness and immediacy. Frontman Craig Finn had rediscovered what the Hold Steady do so well—soaring anthems, pocked with hilarious, devastating lyrics—while pursuing his increasingly excellent solo career, and the group became a sextet for 2019’s thrilling Thrashing Thru the Passion. Their rejuvenated second act continues with Open Door Policy, an ornate record that incorporates Nicolay’s ambitious compositions as an integral part of the band’s songwriting. Passion had them recognizing, to quote a lyric, “It doesn’t have to be perfect/Just sort of has to be worth it.” On Open Door Policy, they reach for something larger: if not perfection, then music with a baroqueness we haven’t quite heard from them before.

A lot of credit should go to producer Josh Kaufman, who also helped craft the luxurious, elder statesman arrangements on Finn’s last few solo albums. Accented by female backing vocals worthy of Leonard Cohen, opener “The Feelers” guides us through a narrative about ascending a mountain to visit the glitter-dusted son of a dead plutocrat with a collection of bottled ships and a fortune “he’d amassed from being ruthless yet polite.” When some palm-muted rhythm guitar enters, Finn seems to switch narrators, and his tight, tense story slips into abstraction, as the band continues layering parts: By the end, we’re left wondering what winding mountain path led us here.

Big moments appear in surprising places on Open Door Policy. The mammoth chorus of “Spices” lands after the band winds us up with an extra verse. The Hold Steady have always shown a flair for killer codas, but with multiple guitarists and a keyboardist, the contrasts are even more dynamic. On the record’s centerpiece, “Unpleasant Breakfast,” for example, riffs from guitarists Steve Selvidge and Tad Kubler set up a rollicking, piano-led send-off that shows off Nicolay’s skill for wide-ranging pastiche.

The person who sometimes takes a backseat, surprisingly, is Finn. Among the most engrossing, poignant lyricists of the 21st century, he’s strayed gradually from the specifics of the Hold Steady’s breakout concept album, 2005’s Separation Sunday. Here, his writing varies, from the blurry impressions of “The Prior Procedure” to the taut, almost Chekhovian tale of a doomed love affair on “Me and Magdalena.” What Finn has left behind is the sense that he’s clamoring for our attention with each joke and clever observation, and instead, he seems to think more consciously about how the band’s detailed playing might fill in the gaps in his sing-speaking. He spikes classic Hold Steady imagery with contemporary unease—a “crucifixion tattoo” covers “some hardline thunder/All dressed in the red, white and blue.” There are a few references to Finn’s latest geographical fixation—Scranton, Pennsylvania where a couple of the record’s characters hail from—and a newfound fascination with the West Coast, a dream for people who are “stuck out in the middle” and “figure that there’s something you’re missing.”

The true innovation on Open Door Policy, though, is one of the Hold Steady as a whole: how they play together, and what they coax out of the material by drawing our attention to musical textures as much as they do lyrical motifs. However often the band has been saddled with being “earnest,” their way of contrasting rock‘n’roll catharsis with personal devastation is also inherently ironic. This sense is more obvious than ever on Open Door Policy, in which descriptions of a woman “throwing up” and then covering it “with sawdust” are overlaid with a chorus of “Woo!,” and songs usually peak at the moment when characters are making their worst decisions. Finn’s people are software developers doubting the ethics of their jobs, aging small-towners dreaming of escape while remembering that “the doctor said he only wants to help me make more healthy decisions.” Meanwhile, a soundtrack of blisteringly happy guitar music plays in the background, their feelings totally out of sync with the grim realities of their lives.

Just before Nicolay left and the Hold Steady entered their difficult early 2010s, Kubler became ill with a case of alcohol-induced pancreatitis and was forced to sober up. “It can be really hard,” the guitarist, who writes much of the Hold Steady’s music, told Pitchfork in 2014. “When the rest of the band is six drinks into the evening and you’re not.” Years later, their lifestyles may be more far-flung than ever—a few have kids, one opened a bar in Brooklyn for fans of Minnesota sports teams—yet the Hold Steady also feel more unified, making a place for each member within their music’s newfound sprawl. If only the band’s characters could learn the qualities that are letting these rock survivors plow on as they all reach the middle-most regions of middle age—their empathy, their sanguine resolve, and their ability to work as a collective: to part ways, and then to come together, with no love lost.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Hold Steady - Open Door Policy Music Album Reviews The Hold Steady - Open Door Policy Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, March 03, 2021 Rating: 5

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