100 for 2000 – #74. The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2007 – #4. The Hold Steady – Boys And Girls In America
(Vagrant)

Just this weekend I was listening to an interview with the band Spoon, taking questions from NPR listeners, when there was a slightly dorky question. ‘Do you still believe in rock ‘n’ roll?’ But you have to ask yourself this when one approaches the Hold Steady. On Boys And Girls In America, they served up meat and potatos rock ‘n’ roll, with all the classic moves, classic sounds and amazingly, some new classic songs.

I’d heard about this band for a while but never investigated further. People compared them to the Replacements, and as much as I love the Mats, bands who love the Mats are usually emo dross. But this album, which was so American, won over the UK press. So, not a note heard, I took a punt and bought the album at the now non-existent Fopp in Westbourne Park.

And woo! What a rush. Anthems. Guitar solos. Springsteen piano. KISS riffs. And this spastic, gruff voiced beat poet in Craig Finn up front. What the hell was this? There wasn’t anything truly new on here, but it had been so long since a band sounded like this. And these guys hit it with such fury it’s tough to deny.

The more I listen to Craig Finn, whether in interviews or songs, the more I like the guy. We have some life beats in common – a teenage love of hardcore and the hardcore scene, loving beautiful but wrecked women, a romantic attachment to rock music that is all out of proportion to reality, that troubling but constant relationship with God. If you believe that rock is something that can save you, then I’m looking at Craig Finn more than anyone else these days to save me.

So the songs. Stuck Between Stations was the first one I heard, and still one of my favourites. A drunken, blurred dream of the poet John Berryman and the devil, talking on Washington Avenue Bridge in 1972, moments before Berryman threw himself off, ending his life. It’s got it all in one song. Boys, girls, life, death, poetry, the city, alcohol, loneliness and music. That’s pretty much all the essential elements of rock and roll right there.

And those themes recur and recur and Finn takes stock of his time and place in history. It goes from celebratory (Massive Nights – why was this not a radio anthem?) to intense and pitiful character studies (You Can Make Him Like You). Through it all, the energy never waivers, the intensity never drops.

This record broke the band out of the indie scene. I really think they could make it into the mainstream. A couple of the songs on here could have been big hits. More than anything though, they are now a big band for me. It’s amazing to think how long I waited for this band to come along.

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