The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

[Vagrant; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: bar rock, classic rock, rock revival
Others:  Blah

The Hold Steady will always have their detractors; I understand that. Some people love testosterone-fueled bar-band ballads, and others can't get over the fact that lead singer Craig Finn doesn't actually, you know, sing. To each his own, right?

Wrong. It's hard to believe that anyone could honestly deny the ass-kickingness of Boys and Girls in America, the band's strongest offering to date. From start to finish, the album is filled with monster melodies in the form of dramatic monologues and screeching instrumentals. Don't believe me? Try opener "Stuck Between Stations," which pauses two-thirds of the way through for some Ben Folds-esque piano tomfoolery before launching into some of the most searing lead-guitar licks pretty much ever. Or "You Can Make Him Like You," with its call-and-response choruses featuring shouts of "There's always other boys/ There's always other boyfriends" between break-through-the-skin drum pounds and more sort-of-singing. My butt hurts already.

But it's not all drunken rockouts. Seriously — is that an acoustic guitar I hear on "First Night?" 'Cause that's definitely an acoustic guitar that plays throughout "Citrus" like some sort of goddamn Counting Crows song. Is The Hold Steady getting soft? (Answer: No.) But, hey, everyone needs a bit of a break sometime, and, as breaks go, these ones are pretty good.

And, I mean, I could go on and on about thematic elements and the album's accurate representations of Midwest teenage ennui and the depth of characters and whatever, but, in the end, who the fuck really cares? (Answer: No one.) All that matters is that this album makes me want to air guitar real bad until I somehow break the hell out of my knuckles in a way that The Hold Steady's never really made me want to do before.

Despite all this, some people will still manage to hate Boys and Girls in America. That's okay — everyone has the right to be wrong sometimes. It's just that, well, now they're wronger than ever.

1. Stuck Between Stations
2. Chips Ahoy!
3. Hot Soft Light
4. Same Kooks
5. First Night
6. Party Pit
7. You Can Make Him Like You
8. Massive Night
9. Citrus
10. Chillout Tent
11. Southtown Girls

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