100 for 2000 – #89. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive

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.

2008 – #9. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
(Vagrant)

Coming off the success of Boys And Girls In America, the Hold Steady came back not one year later with an album even more anthemic and heartfelt. Stay Positive is a perfect distillation of what this band is about. It serves as both an album and a manifesto for them.

The Hold Steady, and Craig Finn in particular, often talks about the influence of 80s US hardcore on him and his music. I’m not sure what Ian MacKaye would think of them, but there was something in the heart of hardcore which was about staying positive. Do better. Eat better. Play better. BE better. Get off your ass. Don’t waste your life. Think for yourself. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Play incredibly difficult to execute music. It’s that inspirational and aspirational attitude that is wrapped up in this record.

It opens with Constructive Summer, a get-off-your-ass anthem if there ever was one. We’re all our only saviours/We’re gonna build something this summer. The title track talks of the long game, of how scene leaders go, drugs get everywhere but hey, another revolution is around the corner. It’s exciting to hear in this age – the world can be better, and soon.

The rest of the record breaks up in two other ways – story songs and songs about girls. Of the story songs, Sequested In Memphis is the best of the lot (and the first single). A nod to the city (complete with horns) and one of their most rousing choruses yet. But there’s also the biker gang drama of One For the Cutters.

The girl songs – usually ballads – are real weepers. Lord, I’m Discouraged is one of Finn‘s very best. Finn‘s noted his long and troubled relationship with faith and God, and seeing a sweet and innocent girl from around covered in bruises shakes him to the core. More by the numbers but no less stunning is Magazines – a drunken, desperate come on for the lonely.

I love this band. I love what they are about too. They treat rock ‘n’ roll as something to believe in. And in turn, I believe them right back. I am trying to hard to learn the lessons from this record.

Do something this summer. Staying positive. Being better.

Stay Positive – a new kind of anthem, and something to believe in.

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