The Hold Steady | Almost Killed Me (First Kiss)

As the press buzz takes pains to point out, “Drop the Emo backpack, take your DJ headphones off, get out of the hotel lobbies and get back in the bars. Bar rock is here again, and The Hold Steady is only trying to help you.”

The Hold Steady starts where Lifter Puller, Craig Finn and Tad Kublers’ previous band, left off—or, perhaps, Star Wars–like, The Hold Steady are a prequel. The music on Almost Killed Me is more anthemic rock ’n’ roll than Lifter Puller’s savvy and somewhat punny chordwork. As the press buzz takes pains to point out, “Drop the Emo backpack, take your DJ headphones off, get out of the hotel lobbies and get back in the bars. Bar rock is here again, and The Hold Steady is only trying to help you.” The music makes the band (rounded out by Galen Polivka and Judd Cousell) sound as if they would love to hold center stage at a stadium with a million Zippos flickering in the night; maybe the whole thing could be capped off with some fireworks.

However, fireworks are not necessary with Finn’s voice and lyrics around. They remain almost unchanged from his LP days, and it is comforting (if that word can be used) to hear his rants. They are a litany of likes and dislikes, the asides about the fruitlessness of the night and the numbing chase: the drugs, the star fucking, and lives so gloriously misspent. Finn is that guy who appears both threatening and riveting. His stories sometimes need a decoder, but for the most part, his rants are just honesty spewed out with an effortless passion.

The songs were recorded mostly live (though in studio), and the lyrics were thrown out almost as a stream of consciousness. It is a tribute to Finn’s abilities as a rapper of middle-aged angst that what comes out is both entertaining and memorable. It is easy to imagine the genesis of a song like “Certain Songs,” which turns us all into the songs we play too much on the jukebox: “B-1 is for the good girls./It’s only the good die young./C-9 is for the making eyes./It’s paradise by the dashboard light./D-4 is for the lovers./B-12 is for the speeders./And the hard drugs are for the bartenders and the kitchen workers and the bartender’s friends./And they’re playing it again./Ellen Foley gives us hope./Certain songs they get scratched into our souls.” There is an honesty that can only come from a person speeding along and talking a mile a minute.

Finn’s stories and observations are fascinating. I don’t know if they will ever be “scratched into our souls,” but they might at least make for a memorable night with your Zippo in a stadium.

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