The Earliest Bird: The Top Recording 2-19-21 – 2-25-21 The Hold Steady’s “Open Door Policy” Reviewed
The problem with The Hold Steady is that whatever they do, however they expand or retract, however big they get, or whatever Runyonesque would be stories the lead singer singer Craig Finn sing speaks, they always sound exactly the same, the main variant being the relative strength of Tad Kubler’s riff building and whether keyboardist Franz Nicolay is with the band and composing or not. He is on the band’s eight album, Open Door Policy, and the album has some very string moments, and, while completely ignoring the events of 2020 -they would have made chopped liver of Craig’s story songs, it refits the same buncha losers and places them in a moribund world of last chances.
With The Hold Steady, when the song is tuneful and massive enough, like “Massive Nights” or “Sequestered In Memphis” (or Finn’s solo masterpiece “Honolulu Blues” -he never parsed the divining line between faith and disbelief better), they have their hat in the ring for greatest band in the world, but most of the time they are a biggish, cultish also rans. On Open The Door, the sleazoid travelling salesman who “palms” a musicians forty bucks is a typical character, somebody you wouldn’t run over in with a car rental, on “Heavy Covenant” is as far as the album goes. It’s a strong moment and then the very next song, “The Prior Procedure” includes a first rate guitar solo but the song is essentially spoken word. The stories are clever, literate, with zingers aplenty (an example: “She had the aura of an angel but she had a couple problems, I guess the big one is she’s someone else’s wife” from “The Feelers”) And so the problems remain, for everything The Hold Steady throws at you, it is undone by the singing, it doesn’t enthrall and there is nothing to latch on. The words are excellent, the sound is big but not self-important, things we love about The Hold Steady, but the singing is so irritating, and the melodies aren’t there although we know the band can write em when they want to. The riffs are their hooks, and their hooks fail to hook. Which is a main reason why the band has never been as big as they certainly might have.
So here we are again, over ten years since Stay Positive, The Hold Steady won’t even deal with the world around them as they detail the personal disasters of losers, grifters, and me.