Original Release - 2010
First I must admit that I am a huge fan of The Hold Steady. I am always excited when they release an album, and for me to criticize them is very hard. So I will try my best to give an even handed review of their newest release "Heaven Is Whenever".
A new Hold Steady album must first be judged against the previous releases from this Minneapolis via Brooklyn rock band. Its hard to beat the trilogy of "Almost Killed Me", "Separation Sunday", and "Boys & Girls In America" the latter being my favorite album of the last decade. The against all odds characters, and thrilling musicianship presented in these albums made The Hold Steady critical and fan favorites. With "Stay Positive" the group moved into more theatrical territory while still staying true to their anthemic refrains. With "Heaven Is Whenever" The Hold Steady have made their most introspective album to date, a more mature and calculated release. Craig Finn said this album would be less anthemic than previous releases and to a point he is correct. The bar anthems are still here, I'm looking at you "Hurricane J", "Rock Problems", and "We Can Get Together" but the majority of the album is The Hold Steady meets Stones circa "Exile On Main Street" meets classic Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. This isn't a negative, and our boys are not in danger of crossing the "Dad Rock" line as Wilco did with their release 'Sky Blue Sky". I feel this is the obvious progression artistically for the band, a reflection point for the last ten years and four albums.
"Heaven Is Whenever" has a promising start, "Sweet Part Of The City" which is Finn and Kubler doing their best Jagger/Richards "Exile On Main Street" groove. Old School fans will notice this sounds a lot like "Charlemagne In Sweatpants" of "Separation Sunday". We can welcome back Tad Kubler on guitar in "Soft In The Center", which boasts power chords that will surely burn down First Avenue sometime this summer, also a killer solo where Tad totally slays it. Here we are met with the first lyrics of reflection and advice from Craig Finn, a theme that is present throughout this album. The first of the anthemic, classic Hold Steady rockers is "The Weekenders", which will surely be a live favorite for old and new fans alike. "Rock Problems" features classic punk influences, and guitar riffs that seem just a little to easy when compared to previous offerings.
"We Can Get Together" basically sums up the philosophy of the band, the same characters are present, but with different names. The hoodrats, and the townies, the passers-by and the not so innocent girls of previous albums, though their stories seem more muted than we are used to. The lyrics in this album seem more observational, and less street level than before, but whats new here is not necessarily negative. "Hurricane J" will probably be the track of Summer 2010, a hard rock offering with a final thirty seconds that will blow your mind. The Hold Steady is known for having killer closing tracks, from "Killer Parties" to "Slapped Actress", this album is no different, it closes with "A Slight Discomfort" which slowly builds into a crescendo of backing vocals and military style drumming from Bobby Drake. It fades to the sounds of a midwestern night, calm and peaceful. I hope this sense of calm is only a breather, and not a sign the boys are content with their current situation.
This album is housed in a glossy case and includes lyrics sheet. It is 180 gram vinyl that sounds very nice, it also comes with the mp3 download codes.
Album - B
Vinyl - A