In a music scene largely dominated by musicians who seem to be getting younger and younger, it’s got to be weird being Craig Finn. In less than 3 years, The Hold Steady front man will be 40, an old man compared to most of his musical peers. You can tell the difference as well. Moving onto topics such as aging and a far less romantic look on love, The Hold Steady have shifted from singing songs about drugs and wasted youth and instead developed a sense of the bigger picture; what happens after you’ve let your glory years pass you by in a swirl of drugs and booze?
Stay Positive draws heavily on their last albums direction and they make no attempt to hide that. The catchy piano melodies, the power chord riffs, the huge anthemic choruses, the backing gang shouts; they’re all present here except with the added touch of trumpets, saxophones, guitar solos and the improved singing of Craig Finn (who’s been taking lessons) to add the extra drive to it. This is the same solid rock ‘n’ roll recipe that made them famous and they’ve refined that formula into a mixture so delicious it’s damn near impossible to get heavy-hitters like lead single ‘Sequestered in Memphis’ out of your head.
It isn’t just the anthems that make this album, however, as songs like 'Lord, I’m Discouraged' and 'Joke about Jamaica' add a different sort of substance to it, serving as the pseudo-ballads of the album, whilst still remaining as effective as the riff-laden sing-a-longs, with the former being highlighted by an impressively emotive guitar solo from Tad Kubler. The latter proves Craig Finn's thick, linear drawl to be as effective an instrument as any of the other band members, showing his vocal lessons yielded favourable results.
As has come to be expected from The Hold Steady, the songs are all distinguished with a keen sense of storytelling through Finn’s unique way of using simple, working mans prose to create effective and relatable lyrics including themes such as death, religion and aging as just a few of the myriad of topics covered. In 'One for the Cutters', Finn crafts a tale about a young girl testifying in court for a man she liked, with clever lines such as “When one townie falls in the forest, can anyone hear it?” or “It's hard to describe, so she kept it a secret” exemplifying Finn’s style.
However, it’s songs like ‘Sequestered in Memphis’, ‘Constructive Summer’ and ‘Stay Positive’ that show The Hold Steady at their finest, in the catchy, sing-a-long mood that defines their sound. Whether it’s the gang ‘whoa’s in the title track or the downright sincerity as Finn sings ‘our psalms are sing-a-long songs’ in ‘Constructive Summer’, they manage to create that determined, optimistic atmosphere that makes driving down an empty road with the sun overhead and the wind through your hair a perfect experience.
Stay Positive is full of optimism, introspection and sincerity and it’s helped them create an album that proves once again that The Hold Steady are worth every bit of hype that is thrown their way.