I’ll admit it, I was late(ish) to the Hold Steady party. I didn’t become a fan until Boys and Girls in America. Even though people were singing the praises of their second album Separation Sunday (it even made the albums of the year list on the site where I used to write) I still didn’t bother checking them out. But after hearing BAGIA, I was hooked. I got everything I could, listened to everything Craig Finn has done (even the Lifter Puller years), so when the band’s fourth album Stay Positive was announced, I eagerly awaited it. It wasn’t as good as Boys and Girls, but it was still a great album. Next month sees the release of their fifth record, Heaven is Whenever (although it came out on vinyl for Record Store Day), and it’s currently streaming online.
So what’s Heaven is Whenever like then?
Relationships are strange beasts. At the beginning of one, you always aim to do everything right – you laugh at their jokes, you tell them funny anecdotes (but only ones that paint you in a good light), and you never mention ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends. It’s only after a few dates that you start to uncover the real person underneath. But it takes years before you really know everything about them.
Hold Steady albums are similar. Some of the tracks are instantly catchy, you pick out a lyric here and there that catches your attention, and you pump your first and grin wildly at the “woah-oh” parts. This was definitely true of Boys and Girls and Stay Positive, and both Almost Killed Me and Separation Sunday definitely had these moments.
A first date with Heaven is Whenever is like going out with your ex’s sister. She may look similar in the distance, but once you sit down for dinner and try to discover her nuances, she’s in no way the same. Some mannerisms are repeated definitely, there’s a saying or phrase taken from this conversation or that, but deep down, you know she’s not the same.
Your first hint is ‘The Sweet Part of the City’. A splendid introduction, although it’s smoother, softer, and a little gentler. Maybe this girl is the one you’ve been waiting for. As the date goes on, you see that she’s entertaining too. Sure, she’s got some problems, but who doesn’t? ‘Rock Problems’ is charming, it just reels you in further.
Near the end of the first date, you’re captivated. We’ve all been waiting for something like this: ‘Our Whole Lives’. And by the time it’s over, you’re finished ‘A Slight Discomfort’, you just want to do it all over again.
Fast forward to the fifth date and you really start to discover what makes this girl tick. You start to notice her name drops, her stories, her interests, her hobbies. You start to see what’s really there. Like ‘We Can Get Together’ and its repeated Husker Du references. She’s clever, she’s got good taste – maybe not the exact same taste as you, but those sure are some sweet words she’s saying. Hey, was that a Meat Loaf reference? I thought I was the only one…
There’s a lot here to like. ‘The Weekenders’, even first introduction ‘Hurricane J’, but we all have our flaws. She’s probably more well-rounded than her older sisters. And there’s heaps going on to bring you back for moref. Her beauty wasn’t evident from the start, and there’s still some things that niggle you, things you may never like.
But remember, you’ve had experience with other girls before. You can’t be constantly comparing and contrasting – I wish she was like…, or that she did…
You’ve also got to remember that she’s coming out of a relationship too. Franz is no longer around. She’ll need time to settle down, to adjust. Let’s just hope the transition doesn’t last too long.
And the fiftieth date? Well, you’re not there yet. And you know you probably won’t like her as much as some of the others, but you’re going to see this through. She’s worth it. There’s a lot to like, not as much to love, but definitely a lot to keep you around for more.