Music News

The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever

Artist: The Hold Steady

Title: Heaven Is Whenever
Release date: May 4
Label: Vagrant

The Hold Steady's new record, Heaven Is Whenever, is going to be the soundtrack of more than a few lives this summer. Picture it: dudes hoisting beers and pumping their fists to the stadium-size riffs, chicks swaying to the power ballads, and the whole drunken gang shouting along to the rich, Springsteen-influenced lyrics.

Sounds like a gas. And for the quibbles I have with Heaven Is Whenever -- the oddly '90s-sounding alt-rock production aesthetic, singer Craig Finn's exaggerated vocal affectations -- I found it difficult to not to get caught up in The Hold Steady's world, one where the combination of rock 'n' roll, nighttime, and the big city holds infinite possibilities. 

They set the tone in the excellent opening track, "Sweet Part of the City": "Everything sparkles and it feels like we're on wheels / It was dark but I guess that's the deal . . . We went out to get some more wine / But it's a long haul to the corner store from the center of the universe." Ah, to be young and self-involved again.

Finn fills his songs with imagery and gives listeners a sense of time and place (anyone who's spent time in Minneapolis will recognize many names), litters them with rock references, and characters we may know ("She said I can't sympathize with your rock 'n' roll problems / Isn't that what we want? Some major rock 'n' roll problems").

When Finn sings "The kids are ripping into sugar packets / Townies taking off their tavern jackets," you don't know what's going to happen, but as in so many of these 10 slice-of-life Hold Steady tracks, you know something is going to happen. Isn't that what rock 'n 'roll is all about?

Best song: "Our Whole Lives," a Springsteen-meets-Rocket from the Crypt anthem ("Sing sing sing every song we know / Blowing out the speakers on your stereo / You finally stopped talking about that boy back home").
Rotation: Heavy
Deja vu: Hüsker Dü's "Celebrated Summer" and The Replacements' "Hold My Life."
I'd rather listen to: Urge Overkill's Saturation and Rocket from the Crypt's RFTC, my two all-time favorite failed stabs at the big time.
Grade: A-

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett