Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America

Maybe because Craig Finn is older than his characters, he's ready to agree to the assertion that boys and girls in America are having a sad time together. There's less Catholicism this time, but just as much drugs and booze as before, both as buffers and backdrops to the relationships described on the record. They've lessened the 80's indie guitar sound from Separation Sunday for a more traditional rock'n'roll crunch, plus a more prominent piano in addition to occasional balladery. The songs vary from the highs, in both senses of the word ("Massive Nights"), to the lows, and the difficulties between boys and the girls:

"How am I supposed to know that you're high if you want let me touch you" ("Chips Ahoy").

Finn's girls are often both shifty, unreliable, and restless ("You Can Make Him Like You"), and they may be damn good dancers, but not all that great girlfriends. Given this, in addition to a musically more trad-/hard rock leaning that can easily be thought of as very male, you'd perhaps think he was being apologetic on behalf of his own gender. But he portrays his characters with a sense of understanding and affection. The boys can be just as jaded. All of them, however, are what America might call losers, but I'd call them seekers. In many ways, Boys and Girls... is very American both musically and in its subject-matter, and so the Hold Steady are carrying on a tradition here. But their ability to carve out a very distinct voice in this tradition, not least through Craig Finn's writing, stories and observations, makes them unique. When two of Finn's seekers, an Izzy Stradlin look-alike and a girl, has a brief romantic encounter stoned out and coming to in the chillout tent of a festival, only to never see eachother again, we have the Hold Steady at the top of their game immortalizing their short story. It's the kind of story you wanna hear again and again.

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