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May 20, 2008

The Hold Steady’s fourth and newest LP, “Stay Positive”, is due July 15th. Its release comes 18 months after 2006’s “Boys and Girls in America,” marking the longest recording break the band has taken since beginning its existence in 2004.

“Boys and Girls in America” was a widely acclaimed album and a commercial breakthrough for the band. What too few people know is that the album is a significant step down from their 2005 masterpiece, “Seperation Sunday.” This album-the band’s sophomore effort-saw the band at its finest; its arena-rocking tendencies coy and understated, its songwriter-lyricist Craig Finn at his profoundly ranting best and his lyrics creating their own charming world, the band’s chops left to stand on their own through relative lack of production. On BAGIA, The Hold Steady still rocks, but relies too often on Springsteen schmaltz, over-production, and lazy “On the Road” references.

If “Sequestered in Memphis” is any indication, the band is continuing its gradual but noticeable decline in quality. Finn’s iconoclastic approach to the microphone is all but gone, saxophones scream echoes of annoying Springsteen songs like “Rosalita,” and the hook (“Subpoenaed in Texas/Sequestered in Memphis”) is grating and overused.

The band’s decline in quality from BAGIA to SS-ultimately best described as a loss of edge-was slight enough to make BAGIA a still highly enjoyable album, and the step from BAGIA standouts like “Stuck Between Stations” and “Chips Ahoy” to “Sequestered in Memphis” is only a little worse. There’s still plenty worth appreciating here. The Hold Steady is one of the technically sharpest indie-rock bands in existence, and you can hear it here. And at the end of the day, SiM is likely to be one of the catchier songs from what’s bound to be 2008’s best indie-rock drinking album. The most important information to take from The Hold Steady’s upcoming release is that they’ll once again take one of the best live rock shows to the stage (including a headlining spot at July’s Chicago-based Pitchfork Festival). Check out their summer tour dates and the streaming version of “Sequestered in Memphis” at The Hold Steady’s MySpace:


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