The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever
Official release date: May 4, 2010
The Verdict: As the handful of songs already released off Heaven Is Whenever attest, the new sound the Hold Steady had hinted at isn’t too different from their old sound. Over ten alternately dejected and hopeful tracks, we get big, meaty riffs; clever, chatty wordplay; and, despite the somewhat acrimonious departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the occasional flowery piano line. Also, the lyrical thread that Craig Finn’s been tracing since the band’s debut, Almost Killed Me, goes unbroken: shout-outs to matinees, sketchy parties, managing expectations, and Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” are all present. In fact, outside of a few exceptions — most notably the downcast slide-guitar on album highlight “The Sweet Part of the City,” particularly jarring as it’s Heaven’s first track — we’d have to say 2008’s Stay Positive was more of a departure. Seeing as Positive felt like the band slipping, it’s a nice bounce back. Also, you’ll also be glad to know that the song “Barely Breathing,” is not a Duncan Sheik cover, and that first single “Hurricane J” is much better than any of the material we’ve ever heard from Shreveport, Louisiana, rapper Hurricane Chris.