That’s right. It’s 2019 and I’m still writing about The Hold Steady.
Which does bring up the question: at what point do you give up on a band you loved in college who might have passed their expiration date? Well, I find this happening less and less these days, considering streaming makes casual listening incredibly easy, which is exactly the kind of listening perfect for an old favorite of yesteryear. Meanwhile, the bands that never really mattered to you that much will fade regardless, while the ones you truly loved will have gained enough of your trust that you’ll continue listening to them into your dreaded thirties.
Just on paper, Thrashing Thru The Passion seemed a bit more promising than the two Hold Steady albums that preceded it, though I’m not sure I had terribly high expectations. First of all, it marks the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, who left The Holdy Steady after their last truly great album, 2008’s Stay Positive. Second, it’s just been a really long time since a new Hold Steady album, though Craig Finn’s solo albums have filled this void nicely. Also, considering the band has been focusing on their weekend runs in various cities, they’ve taken on this weekend warrior vibe while also retaining their status as the world’s greatest bar band.
Which would explain why Thrashing Thru The Passion feels like such a deliciously meat and potatoes rock album. 2014’s Teeth Dreams was marked by a very “radio rock” style of production that some complained made the band sound like Foo Fighters, but I was fine with. The production on this album feels a little more in line with the band’s golden albums Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls In America, though the songs aren’t quite as anthemic. Still, the dashes of horns and Nicolay’s poignant piano runs give the album nice touches of musical complexity to go along with the no-frills energy of a band rediscovering how much they enjoy playing with each other.
I also might argue that The Hold Steady might not be a band worth giving up on, just because they were never particularly fashionable. Though they were a part of the Brooklyn indie-rock boom of the mid-00s, they were a bit older and their poetic classic rock aesthetic didn’t sound a thing like their contemporaries. They’ve always been a band intent on rocking steadily into middle age, so coming back every few years to this project that probably should’ve never worked as well as it did feels appropriate. Meanwhile, the diehards like myself will come back to them as long as they’re there to offer a winning guitar riff paired with a winning lyric about drinking and geography.