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The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady (photo by D. James Goodwin, PR)

The Hold Steady (photo by D. James Goodwin, PR)


The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru the Passion
Frenchkiss Records

For more than fifteen years, The Hold Steady have been the literate torchbearers of a roughhouse thinking (and drinking) person's rock and roll. Now comes their seventh studio album, Thrashing Thru the Passion, the first album from the band in over five years.

The Hold Steady — presently the sextet of singer and rhythm guitarist Craig Finn, lead guitarist Tad Kubler, guitarist Steve Selvidge, bassist Galen Plivka, drummer Bobby Drake and keyboardist Franz Nicolay — haven't been totally silent over that time. Finn has had a healthy solo career — over the past four years, he released a trilogy of albums: 2015's Faith in the Future, 2017's We All Want the Same Things, and this year's I Need A New War, all three which he's described as not really aligned with what the Hold Steady does. As for the entire band, beginning in 2017 the Hold Steady have released five digital singles, featuring nine songs in total. Five of those songs make up the latter half of Thrashing Thru The Passion. Supporting those single releases, the Hold Steady have continued to play live, and have also implemented a new approach to touring: less traveling and more multi-night residencies in single venues located in centralized cities.

Thrashing Thru the Passion delivers exactly what one would expect from the Hold Steady: adrenaline-fueled garage rock that’s equal parts punk attitude and wiseguy brashness. As the band raises holy hell behind him, Finn spits out his character studies, late-night tales, and casual observations in his trademark, rapid-fire style.

The single “Denver Haircut” introduces us to a guy trying to change his look and his luck. Small-town life is the subject of “Traditional Village,” spurred along by horns to help deliver its sermon. “Blackout Sam” slows the pace, providing an opportunity to order another round of drinks while Finn paints his smoky portrait.

The playful “T-Shirt Tux,” a song that is a year old, introduces us to a guy who's "got a t-shirt tux and piano key tie." A master of descriptive asides, Finn’s words sometimes read more like a novel than the lyrics to a song. “She texts from the exit, says she’s on her way over," he sings on "Epaulets." "In an ocelot coat with the epaulet shoulders. It’s sweet ‘cause I’m a sucker for the dictator chic.”

A shady bunch of characters are trying to pull off a shady deal on “The Stove and the Toaster," a track from 2018. Finn addresses different levels of fame and name-drops Donna Summer, Peter Tosh, and Mariel Hemingway on “Star 18,” a song that also first came out last year.  In it, he spits out the very funny, self-deprecating line: “So the Hold Steady's at the Comfort Inn/Mick Jagger’s at the Mandarin.”

Finally, only Finn can successfully rhyme "prednisone" with "metronome," as he does on “Confusion In The Marketplace."

Nicolay’s recent return to the band is evident in virtually every song on the album,  good examples being "T-Shirt Tux" and also “Entitlement Crew,” a song first heard in late 2017, and the opener of the second half of the album. On that track, his keyboard flourishes add color and dimension to the band's bedrock of guitar, bass and drums. 

Since their last album, the Hold Steady have done just that: maintaining what makes them such a dynamic unit and local rock 'n' roll heroes. Thrashing Thru The Passion is a return to form for this ecstatic whirlwind of a band, deftly buoyed by Finn's tales of wanderers, dreamers, and hapless drunks.

A brand new FUV Live session with the Hold Steady airs on 90.7 WFUV on Wednesday, September 18, and will also be available online.