April 9, 2006

The Hold Steady: Almost Killed Me

holdsteady.killed.jpgA while back, I reviewed the Hold Steady's sophomore album, Separation Sunday. My review was glowing, or at least I hope it was. It deserved to be. Six months later, it's still in heavy rotation. So, why it took me so long to get my hands on their debut, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, is beyond me. What's important is that I did.

When I reviewed Separation Sunday, I described it thusly:

The guitars are loud and crunchy. Think about the more raucous periods in Aerosmith, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin history. Throw in a little AC/DC for good measure. Drums are solid and absolutely bombastic. Booming bass-work rounds out the steady, solid rhythm section. Vocalist Craig Finn talks to the music but rarely sings. His voice is ragged. He sounds like a poet wailing on a soapbox on a busy street corner. But listen to what he's saying. The bar-fight soundtrack is only the first, most accessible layer of Separation Sunday. Listen closer and you'll realize Separation Sunday is a highly literate album.

The same applies here. Almost Killed Me is basically one giant hard rock, balls-to-the-wall riff, worthy of comparison to all the great rock bands in music history. More important, though, are the lyrics. Again, Craig Finn's spoken word shouting delivers brilliantly literate, clever and funny lyrics. It's instantly clear you're listening to a smart band. And that's the saving grace. Any half-competent group of musicians can bang out big, loud riffs. Anyone can shout vocals into a microphone. Few, however, can write with such complexity and insight.

Almost Killed Me might just be better than Separation Sunday. It is definitely better and more engaging than the majority of stuff churned out in studios around the world.

By the way, if you haven't already tried it, give emusic.com a spin. They've got an exclusive live album featuring a Hold Steady performance of their entire debut. And if you sign up, use my gmail address as a reference. I'll get free tunes.

Posted by Chris at April 9, 2006 9:24 AM

Yeah, these guys are awesome! I saw them in my neighborhood a couple months ago. Hold Steady definitely gets steady play on the iPod!

Posted by: Chris at April 9, 2006 6:27 PM

Have you ever heard 'Sorry' of Madona ... hot song.

Posted by: Smart at April 9, 2006 10:37 PM

Have you ever heard 'Sorry' of Madona ... hot song. I love C# :)

Posted by: Smart at April 10, 2006 1:06 AM

Haven't heard their first album either. I'll try out emusic (but their application seems a little slow in Firefox). Thanks for the recommendation.

Posted by: Neil at April 10, 2006 1:38 AM