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Album Review: Heaven is Whenever, by The Hold Steady

July 26, 2010

The Hold Steady is one of my very favorite bands.  So when my very favorite band member, Franz Nicolay, left the band, I was kind of upset. And when The Hold Steady came out with their first album sans Franz, Heaven is Whenever, I put off buying it for a few months. I finally got up the nerve to listen to a few songs on Youtube the other day, and I was really pleasantly surprised, so I bought the album. And…. y’know. Here’s what I think of it.

One of the things that lead singer Craig Finn was proud of about the album was that it was “less anthemic” than their other albums.  Which is true, it’s more complicated.  The first song, “The Sweet Part of the City” is a pretty good opener, doing that semi-nostalgic thing that The Hold Steady does so well.  Not my cup of tea, but still a good song.  Trouble is, I like the whole party-anthem, just-looking-to-have-a-good-time feel that they usually have.  Luckily for me, that’s still pretty prevalent on Heaven is Whenever.  The second song on the album, “Soft in the Center,” strikes a nice balance between the more complex, soulful sound of “The Sweet Part of The City” and one of the songs from their previous album, Stay Positive, “Lord, I’m Discouraged,” and the beat-driven rock of songs like “Sequestered in Memphis,” also from Stay Positive.

Overall, I really like Heaven is Whenever. Maybe not quite as much as past albums, but there are a few standout songs:  the previously mentioned “Soft in the Center,” “The Smidge,””Barely Breathing,” and “Our Whole Lives.”  One of the main reasons I wanted to listen to this album was to help me decide whether to see The Hold Steady at the Beacon Theater in October.  I was skeptical because of the band restructuring, and because it’s a seated venue, which is really weird for one of their shows.  It tends to curb the amount of jumping around and finger-pointing that can happen.  But after a few listens to the album and reading some reviews of the venue, I’m going to go, because it seems that a small obstacle like seating numbers doesn’t stop most people from the aforementioned jumping around.  Yay!

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