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The Hold Steady are back after four years of silence following 2010's Heaven is Whenever, and as fans must expect by this point, they're exploring the same vein of music as they have been throughout their career.
For those unfamiliar with the band, their style can be nicely summed up as a melding of classic arena rock and alternative sensibilities with a sneering vocalist talk-singing about drug-addled young adults over it all.
Craig Finn's lyrics are as dense and poetic as ever, even if they are treading the same ground as the band's last few albums. A possible issue however is the mixing of his lyrics, which are often lost beneath the guitars sounds. The songs still sound good, but I found myself straining to make out the lyrics throughout the album.
As such, it's often refreshing when I can finally make out what Finn's saying, as in the middle of the epic nine-minute closing track "Oaks." Some might be put off by its length, but the change half-way through the song makes it one of the album highlights for me, along with "Wait a While" and "Spinners."
The other songs seem a little light on melody without strong choruses to anchor them. Finn's talk singing can be grating, and it works best when framed between melodic choruses, often sung by back-up singers. Their greatest album Boys and Girls in America has tons of examples of this dynamic. Here, that sense of melody to anchor it all is often lacking.
Occasionally though, you might catch one of Finn's resonant lyrics about self-destruction and young recklessness or a soaring guitar solo that makes it all worth it. The "Free Bird"-worthy solo that closes the album is a triumph that's hard to deny.
There are differences here that discerning listeners might notice, like the creeping influences of roots rock becoming more present with the band's new guitarist, but it is, to an extent, more of the same from The Hold Steady. There are highs and there are lows, but it's without a doubt worth a listen for anyone interested in modern rock and roll.