The Hold Steady return with an album that offers fresh takes and familiarity on ‘Thrashing Thru the Passion.’
Listen: ‘Thrashing Thru the Passion’ – The Hold Steady
If you really sit and examine the Craig Finn extended universe, you’d probably get a sense that Finn thinks Led Zeppelin is the 20th Century’s answer to the King James Bible, but the only way you’d know that is by washing down a bunch of uppers with a keg of Milwaukee’s Best[i]. It’s reasons like this that it’s easy to mistake the thoughtful, intelligent band for just a bunch of drunk record store nerds who like sweet riffs. On their seventh album Thrashing Thru the Passion, The Hold Steady pack drug, literary and musical references in a way that both showcases the musicianship of their new extended lineup and their typical brand of boozy intelligence.
While this is the band’s first proper full-length album since 2014’s Teeth Dreams, the band has been steadily releasing new songs since 2017. The back half of the record is entirely made up of songs that were sporadically released before. While this helps clean up some of the weaker songs that came out (“The Last Time That She Talked to Me”), it also forced out some contenders that may not have received as much love (“A Snake in the Shower” and “Esther”). Most of the songs don’t really benefit from their placement on the album, and it would probably be more fitting to just throw all the songs onto the record. The band could also have released the previous singles as an album, and the first half of this album as a great EP. The inclusion of the previously released tracks feels like Thrashing Thru the Passion was only given an album release to gain more fanfare than an EP or compilation would warrant.
The rest of the album serves as a sweet return for The Hold Steady. Franz Nicolay’s piano is often brought front and center, in more pronounced places than previous Hold Steady records, as if to announce his return. “T-Shirt Tux” and side one closer “Blackout Sam” use the piano to great effect to create a laidback Springsteen-esque song and a Gospel-inspired jam, respectively. “Blackout Sam” also teeters on the line with the more mature solo material from Finn’s solo album, but the glee he takes in drugs and alcohol are decidedly a feature of The Hold Steady’s music.
The rest of the album is the typical sort of beer-raising classic rock-inspired punk that you’d expect from the band, but album closer “Confusion in the Marketplace” leans more towards the indie-rock contemporaries that The Hold Steady began with. It’s mid-paced and dreamy, even as Finn belts out typical THS-isms like “I don’t wanna dick around/I just wanna devastate.” The prominence of horns also help to flesh out the typical shredding. Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge indulge just enough, and the horns on tracks like “The Stove & The Toaster” and “Traditional Village” function like additional guitars, making this record feel even more stacked.
Following I Need a New War, it’s very nice to hear Finn really indulge in whimsy and hard partying on Thrashing. While similar themes popped up on War, that record took a much more mature approach to the consequences that the lifestyles of The Hold Steady’s characters often lead. The reference-heavy, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs-like style of lyricism seems reserved for The Hold Steady, and Finn really lets loose here. Quotable lyrics are a standard of the band who claimed “The singalong songs will be our scriptures,” and Finn gives a number of them, whether it’s observations on music:
The reason these people
still listen to Zeppelin
Is it sounds really cool
when you’re stoned
or strange habits:
Wherever he goes, he always orders “the usual.”
He likes to see what they bring him.
and just songs to drink with:
Tequila take off
Finn also indulges in his typical sort of characters: a drug-dealing chef/chauffeur team, a woman who dresses in “dictator chic,” and someone nicknamed “Blackout Sam.” These sort of almost junkies, petty criminals, and misguided partiers are standard for Finn, and he indulges the listeners with these fast, yet detailed sketches of each, occasionally providing some twisted Christian salvation. It’s the joy to I Need a New War’s agony.
As The Hold Steady continue on their quick weekend residencies, Thrashing Thru the Passion fits nicely alongside choice cuts from Boys & Girls in America or Stay Positive. The band hones the energy of classic rock titans like AC/DC or The Rolling Stones, by giving fans exactly what they want yet also sliding some new flair into their sound. They’re a band that sound just as energized as their debut, but want to incorporate more “adult” qualities into their music. Just like so many of the best Hold Steady songs, so much of the record finds salvation in being strung out. Sometimes, the best way to face your problems is with a sick riff and cheap beer raised in the air.
[i] Finn would probably call it something like a “St. Paul Communion.”
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