Released through Frenchkiss records, Thrashing Thru the Passion
is The Hold Steady’s first album in more than five years and their seventh LP overall. The band has been a staple throughout its lifespan as a critically acclaimed namesake in the classic rock genre. The information age has given us an enormous amount of experimental music, I contend that The Hold Steady is a lifebuoy for those in need of a break from all the flailing. Notably, the band is at its largest with a consistent six members with over ten musicians appearing on the album itself.
Many tracks are similar sounding, in that guitars rule and elevate Finn’s vocals. No single track stands out, however, given the style in which Finn writes this is not surprising. Each track is filled with detailed poetics, depth taking precedence over “catchiness”. Selvidge and Finn work tightly allowing listeners on tracks such as “Denver Haircut” and “T-Shirt Tux” to be surprised and pleased with keyboard interludes from Franz Nicolay. Given the muddiness and reliance on guitar and detailed storytelling, a swoop from Nicolay or blap from a horn quartet (Stuart Bogie, Dave Nelson, Jordan McLean and Michael Leonhart) drives the listener – if only for a moment- away from the grimy realness of Finn’s lyrics. A muddy positivism is found lingering in each track which can be credited to the horns and upbeat pace of the album.
What would have helped this album is one or two tracks of instrumental exploration. The listener, at times, requires a break from Finn’s detail laden writing. The listener is not offered time to digest what he is devouring and is forced to consider each song at face value. A closer look at the lyrics of each song will leave the reader dumbfounded at the immensity of content forced into 34 minutes of music. In short, for better or worse, the album is extremely tight.
Take, for instance, a line from “Confusion in the Marketplace”, the album’s last song,
Princess came to breakfast looking puffy from the Prednisone
Someones little sister had me marching to the metronome
The Maharaji is on the mountain with a megaphone
Reaching for the secrets in the static on the stereo
This is one stanza of, yes, I counted, nearly 100 from the album, some much longer and as intricate. Many of the lines are lost or hidden under swampy guitars and the listener would do best reading the lyrics of at least a few of the songs to gain a better perspective on the album’s purpose, which, I think, is to represent the dirty yet positive nature which exists in all cities where people do not reject desperation. This is an album one can listen to over and over again as it lacks pretentiousness without rejecting an air of melancholy. Thrashing Thru the Passion requires of the listener a dark sense of humor and an inquisitive ear for rhyme and storytelling. If the listener can offer this, he or she will be reciprocated consistent, positive energy with each listen.