Words: Simon Opie
The Hold Steady - 'Heaven Is Whenever'
The Rough Trade store in Covent Garden was one of the best places to hang out in London. Just before its demise, the store manager (who had by then recognised me for a hopeless addict) said "here listen to this, you’ll like it" and played me 'Boys And Girls In America' by The Hold Steady. I did indeed like it very much and discovered their second album, 'Separation Sunday', was even better. Their live show at The Borderline was terrific and had just a perfect, sweaty-club atmosphere with most of the audience onstage for the closing song, 'Killer Parties'. Here was a band fit to conquer the world. The trouble is, they did – well the USA at least – and now they don’t seem like the band I used to know.
Since 'Boys And Girls' they’ve been discovered, toured major venues, and released the hit-and-miss follow-up 'Stay Positive', the poor quality 'Live At Lollapalooza', and now 'Heaven Is Whenever' (which, perhaps appropriately, features a drowning man as the cover art). The band members have had a makeover, looking rock-star sharp instead of goofy. All of which could maybe work, except for the fact that they are still stuck, lyrically, in the groove of their first three albums.
But now we know they are not playing the bars any longer, they’re not hanging out with the hoodrats and they’re not taking girls back to their bedrooms to listen to records. Back in the day, credibility was their trump card and now it’s their fatal flaw. They’re still capable musicians but the quality of the songs has suffered too. The first track on this album – 'The Sweet Part Of The City' - has the promise of a new direction but the rest is simply, and sadly, irrelevant.
'Heaven Is Whenever' was released in May 2010. Available at Piccadilly Records or digitally.
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