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The Hold Steady: Heaven is Whenever

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I hate the Counting Crows. As a kid in middle school, I always loathed that insipid “Mr. Jones” song. For me, The Counting Crows symbolized everything I hated about WTTS-core “Adult Contemporary” music.

One can only imagine my disappointment when I popped in the latest Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever, and halfway through the opening track (“The Sweet Part of the City”), my roommate popped her head out of her door and asked “Hey, are you listening to Counting Crows?”

I pressed stop and marched down to her room to give her a piece of my mind. It was the Hold Steady, NOT the stupid Counting Crows. As I walked back to my room and resumed play but I was unable to escape the Counting Crows reference. Throughout the album, I couldn’t help conjuring up images of Adam Duritz’s facing singing Craig Finn’s words. It was disturbing to say the least.

Counting Crows comparisons aside, Heaven Is Whenever is still a solid album. While it may lack a dynamite track like “Constructive Summer”, it is overall a more well-rounded album than 2008’s Stay Positive.

For album 5, they went with the artsy photograph motif for their artwork.
  • For album 5, they went with the "artsy photograph" motif for their artwork.

The lead single “Rock Problems” is a classic Hold Steady song about drinking and hanging out and girls. By far the best track on the record, however, is the lifting “Hurricane J”, a track about a rough-and-tumble girl that wouldn’t be tamed. On “Hurricane J”, as with the rest of the album, Craig Finns lyrics are topnotch. In one of his many veiled references to Catholicism, Finn croons “They didn’t name her for a saint/ they named her for a storm/ how’s she supposed to think about how it’s gonna feel in the morning”.

Five records into their career, the Hold Steady know exactly what they are doing. They have a unique fan base thanks to their punk/hardcore roots (Hüsker Dü gets name-dropped this time around) but they have reached an interesting cross-roads: as they get older and wiser, their music becomes softer and more thoughtful. But when exactly does “softer and more thoughtful” simply become “dull and boring”. I’m not quite sure, but I bet the Counting Crows know.

Slow and Thoughtful or Dull and Boring? You make the call...
  • "Slow and Thoughtful" or "Dull and Boring"? You make the call...

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