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The Hold Steady’s New Album Cover: What Does It All Mean?

Roughly a month after ex-keyboardist Franz Nicolay criticized the Hold Steady for having “one big idea — making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock,” the band announced their new album, Heaven Is Whenever, and described it as “less anthemic and more complex.” Coincidence? Was Nicolay out of the loop? Or was the new sound — explained by guitarist Tad Kubler as “sonically diverse,” “dynamically expansive,” and heavily influenced by the film scores of Gustavo Santaolalla, Terence Blanchard, and Jon Brion — not enough of a departure for Franz? We won’t know until the album comes out May 4, but for now we’re wondering … didn’t the band talk up a bold new direction on Stay Positive, too? (We remember Craig Finn specifically talking about getting singing lessons). And didn’t that album’s best moments (mostly “Constructive Summer”) sound like old Hold Steady? Look, we’re glad the band’s concerned with moving forward, but personally, we were hoping for a more retrograde feel (we like when Finn talk-sings) and thought we might get one, since Heaven’s producer Dean Baltulonis worked on the band’s first two albums as well. Anyway, if you’d like to take this premature analysis of an unheard album further out on your own, here’s Heaven’s just unveiled cover art.