3. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever
Heaven is whenever
We can get together
Go into your bedroom
And listen to your records.
– We Can Get Together
I believe in rock ‘n’ roll.
Ever since, just like in the Velvets song, Nirvana taught me the world from my bedroom – and saved a non-English speaking kid from dropping out of high school and being a factory worker for the rest of his life – I believe rock ‘n’ roll can save us.
And it’s rock ‘n’ roll – not music. It’s the fiery, guitar/bass/drums, a killer voice and a message. Of all the musics in the world, rock ‘n’ roll is still the best mix of a punch in the face and a light to the mind. Other music may make more physical impact. Others might be more lyrical.
But rock ‘n’ roll is still the only perfect mix of the two.
2010 was, for me, a deeply personal reclaiming of rock ‘n’ roll. Whether it was new albums Surfer Blood, Titus Andronicus, You Am I, Manics, Springsteen or whoever – it seemed to be a year of rock. Coupled with a rediscovery of many old rock records I loved in the past.
Listening to this music is always dangerous – I find myself making big life decisions a few months later. I certainly did this year.
That is a long preamble to introduce the 5th Hold Steady album – the bible to my rock ‘n’ roll religion. Not only does the band rock, they also believe that rock ‘n’ roll can save you. And they set about proving it.
They set it all up in We Can Get Together – which could well be their greatest achievement to date. They have started to really nail the slow, Stones-y ballads. And in it, singer Finn discusses Heaven – whether it’s the Pavement song Heaven Is A Truck or the UK band Heavenly. It’s as though the first thing we rock believers think of are songs about Heaven. But the final message is heaven is listening to this music. For a band made on anthems, this could be their greatest.
Every few years a band comes along that feels like it’s just made perfectly for you. For me, the Hold Steady are one. The passion of hardcore. The rock blues licks of the Stones. The smarts of Bob Dylan. And the story of their career has been them getting more tuneful, and giving up some power for beauty.
For the first time they open with a ballad. The slide heavy Sweet Part of the City (the place with the bars and restaurants) sounds like Exile On Main Street. It is a confident move from a band trying to do something different.
But, in the end it’s the rock. Hurricane J. Rock Problems. Weekenders. And more. All come on like a rush, and lifts you from your place. It’s filled with the most powerful messages used in rock. We are damaged but not that much. Life can be better and it’s up to us. I’m having fun and I’m allowed to to have fun. I’m older but the passion is not gone. Messages we’ve all heard before, and love hearing again.
41 minutes. 10 songs. Not a wasted second. It’s a fucking stunning record. One that leaves you believe again. I bow to the Hold Steady for being around. They are the best band at brandishing that ancient fire we call rock ‘n’ roll.
Best tracks: Heaven Is Whenever, Hurricane J, Rock Problems
Official site – The Hold Steady
No clips for this album, but here’s an acoustic version of Hurricane J. It misses the rock power but still a great song.