“If the scene were a church, then The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn would be the pastor. We live vicariously through his intricately woven tales of girls, booze, and drugs. And now we the congregation have another book of sing-along psalms and positive jams courtesy of Finn and company.
The Hold Steady’s fifth studio album, Heaven is Whenever, may seem like a throwback of sorts to fans. Out is keyboardist Franz Nicolay (he and his mustache left the band in early 2010 to pursue a solo career) and in is producer Dean Baltulonis, who produced the first two Hold Steady albums. Finn stated that without the piano and keys “there’s a sense of space in it that I don’t think we’ve had since Separation Sunday.”
And without Nicolay’s grand piano flourishes, it’s up to the guitarists to deliver the goods, and man do they ever. It’s not out of the question to say that this is Tad Kubler’s best work. His riffs and guitar solos in tracks like “Soft In The Center” and “The Weekenders” will get your fist pumping, while his compositions on the eerie finale “A Slight Discomfort” and the sentimental “We Can Get Together” are brilliant. The opening track is a change of pace as well. While past albums have begun with an anthem, Heaven is Whenever starts with the bluegrass musings of “The Sweet Part Of The City.”
While it seems like so much has change, the pillars of The Hold Steady’s sound are still soundly in place. We still get a heavy dose of power chords, group vocals, and nostalgia, especially from the middle portion of the album. “The Smidge”, “Rock Problems,” and “Hurricane J” will all get your heart pumping, packed with riffs that rip right through the songs. Don’t be surprised when “Hurricane J” becomes your go-to song for the summer. The lively “Barely Breathing” features horns, specifically a clarinet solo, and it works within the woodwind-inspired melody. Fans of the last two albums will cling onto “Our Whole Lives,” as it carries a lot of those characteristics.
Heaven and the idea of what it is works as Finn’s prevalent theme for the album. On the aforementioned “We Can Get Together,” Finn recalls his favorite bands and records, offering us a glimpse into his piece of heaven, while the subtle theme is mentioned on tracks like “Our Whole Lives” and “Hurricane J.”
Finn’s incredible storytelling is still present, but this time around he’s a bit more reflective and tad more somber than before. Whether it’s urging his girl to pursue better things (“Hurricane J”), refusing to hook up with a former flame (“The Weekenders”), or offering comfort (“Soft In The Center”), Finn is using his past experiences to help you make better decisions. Amidst the disappointment and tragedy, there is hope, and really that is what has always drawn us to Finn’s lyrics.
With Heaven is Whenever, the most consistent band in rock and roll remains reliable, as The Hold Steady give their sound a fresh update while not straying too far from what makes them so endearing. Hallelujah.”
— Drew Beringer, Absolute Punk | Full Article »