‘The Best Rock Band of the 21st Century’ THE HOLD STEADY Releases 8th Album ‘OPEN DOOR POLICY’ and Charts in Top 10 For First Time In Their Career
The Hold Steady is one of my all time favorite groups transitioning from music that kind of glommed onto me in high school listening to anything that rocked and said something to me, to heading into my thirties and finding music that I had more of a working relationship with, give and take. I first heard of them through a list on McSweeneys Internet Tendency, a cultural guidestone whose views I trust nearly implicitly, offering things that you need to check out, from songs to frozen microwavable breakfast contrivances, which recommended The Hold Steady song ‘Chillout Tent’. A narrative about taking too many drugs at a concert and having a sort of strange fling with a stranger recuperating under the supervision of medics somewhere adjacent to the outdoor stage, I think it’s about something more. Tempting fate, getting fucked up, and coming through, looking like a cross between an accident victim and disheveled miracle, beaming.
Soon, the album featuring that song ‘Boys and Girls in America’ was one of my major go-to rock out sessions. It’s vintage The Hold Steady; a roaming text of drugs, dreams, dealings, and all these dutch angles of interior affections and disaster.
The Hold Steady rarely misses. They may be said to do the same thing often, even repeating lyrical snippets, but got-damn if it isn’t worth it.
Enter the new album, which has more narratives focused on drugged out parties, glimmers of suburban mansion cult leaders, and the spirituality that will always be stiving, the belonging that will always be awkward.
He said large scale displacement is such a major modern tragedy
That’s why I instituted this open door policy
Been thinking about kicking off some new kind of family
I’m really glad that you’re here – ‘The Prior Procedure’
The band’s lyrics often remind me of Kurt Vonnegut jr.’s repeated statements, expressed in full explicitness in his autobiographical collage ‘Fates Worse Than Death’. Vonnegut rages against the rootlessness that plagues American culture in these latter days, since his time in World War II, and as a dark satirist combating the more unwelcoming trends of mass culture, even brazenly or perhaps brazenly tongue in cheek advocated gang culture as a remedy for this alienation. Which of course reminds me of the Hold Steady in full, where one makes of the constant drug references and scandalous ingredients what they will.
“I am surely a great admirer of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous, and Cocaine Freaks Anonymous, and Shoppers Anonymous, and Gluttons Anonymous, and on and on. And such groups gratify me as a person who studied anthropology, since they give to Americans something as essential to health as vitamin C, something so many of us do not have in this particular civilization: an extended family. Human beings have almost always been supported and comforted and disciplined and amused by stable lattices of many relatives and friends until the Great American Experiment, which is an experiment not only with liberty but with rootlessness, mobility, and impossibly tough-minded loneliness.”-Kurt Vonnegut jr, ‘Fates Worse Than Death’
The Hold Steady will forever be a staple of my musical rotation, part of my weird extended family. They’ve earned that, no question. This type of narrative exploring dark tales and drug deals, with these redemptive arcs always has me praying the nurse doesn’t take my headphones.
And this new album, after a couple of listens, has plenty to offer. If even the track ‘Unpleasant Breakfast’ with its plaintive lyrics
“I no longer see the romance in these ghosts
This coffee’s cold, this toast is gross
I no longer see the romance in these ghosts”
seems like a writer confessing he is tired of his own creations, it feels earned. Like God, on a whim, telling Noah, ‘perhaps you should build a large boat… for reasons… my son.”
The sound on this offering is steady, and it holds.
In an age where rock legends don’t get the publicity, the support of the cultural forces of media and airplay that legends once had at their back like gusty winds (whether they are legends because they were boosted to the heights or because their status was earned). The Hold Steady has its sails at full and they have found their own wind over the years.
They have made their legend, as these times dictate, on knowing something only the wind makes clear.
All these anti-psychosis pills
So much power and grace