The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever


4.0
excellent

Review

by Kiran EMERITUS
April 22nd, 2010 | 112 replies | 18,630 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Hold Steady embrace change on their fifth outing as the kings of wordy rock n roll.

As much as The Hold Steady have been prized as the thinking mans rock band, they’ve never made you think too hard. Sure, Finn has a way with words and much of their music hints at something much more calculated than bar-light jamming, but they’ve always coaxed more out of huge choruses and sing-a-long anthems than just about anyone else. They’ve been fun more than anything, though always postured in a way where listeners could take a little bit more out of it, through references and clever one-liners, whichever way you like your nostalgia served. With their breakthrough Boys and Girls in America, and to a lesser extent its follow-up Stay Positive, they made the kind of records that made people wish they had stories to tell, places to be, and responsibilities to forget, and they did so with style – these guys are way cooler than your older brother’s rock band, no matter how many packs of cigarettes they smoke or how many fashionable tears they’ve ripped into their jeans, and that’s even more impressive when you find out Craig Finn’s nearly forty.

This timeless formula has seen them rise both critically and amongst fans as the last bastions of old fashioned rock n roll, the ever-reliable Hold Steady: power chords, woah-oh’s and a singer so sharp he could talk his way into anybody’s heart. Heaven is Whenever offers something a little bit different. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a Hold Steady joint and we’ve got all the regular customers: the kids are consuming enough alcohol to put a brewery out of stock, someone’s camping out by the coat check, and nobody here gives a damn about your rock n roll problems. But then there are songs like “Barely Breathing”, which go some way in showing just how fine tuned their songwriting skills have become, with it’s jaunty, woodwind-infused melody and the last thing anyone would’ve expected in a Hold Steady song: a clarinet solo.

It’s certainly a different beast than anything they’ve released before, and another big change comes with the production. It’s clean and clear as daylight, allowing subtleties to shine. This nuanced style works well for what they’re trying to accomplish, as the departure of longtime keyboardist Franz Nicolay (who’s directed his Greg Norton styled moustache towards a solo career and touring duty with Against Me!) has in turn led to Tad Kubler putting in the best work he’s ever done, shifting from more understated roles like the gradual composition of closer “A Slight Discomfort” to more immediate displays like the exceptional guitar solos in “Soft in the Center” and “The Weekenders”. It’s in songs like “We Can Get Together” where their new direction really shines though, in which the slow-burning, wistful instrumentation and airy backing vocals create a far subtler warmth than what we’re used to, and amidst Husker Du, Pavement and Meat Loaf references, it all culminates around Finn’s realization: “Heaven is whenever / we can get together / lock your bedroom door / and listen to your records”.

As a whole, Heaven is Whenever reveals itself as a change in ethos; they may have started as a hobby but this is the result of a band looking deeply at themselves and where they want to go. It’s a record of transition: amongst the girls and the booze and the drugs and the parties, they’re looking beyond the hazy cloud of cigarette smoke and seeing something incredibly human. It doesn’t work all the time, like with the painfully forgettable “The Smidge”, but it’s a forgivable misstep when you look at where they’ve got it right. “Hurricane J” has a man pushing his girl on to better things than what he can offer (and teaches us that a woah-oh enthused chorus is the best way to break up) and “Soft in the Center” comforts: “You won’t get every girl / but you’ll love the ones you get the best”. It seems so obvious but when Finn says it you think about it a little bit longer than you ever would have, tinged with tragedy but glimmering with a hope that underlines much of what’s offered here. There’s enough fun, intelligent rock n roll to give anyone their Hold Steady fix but in context of their discography, and with a little bit of prodding, this is something grander. Heaven is whenever, man.



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user ratings (133)
Chart.
3.3
great
other reviews of this album
BigHans (3.5)
At times, the band strays much too far from their formula. When they revert to habit, the results a...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

she said the theme of this party's the industrial age
you came in dressed like a train wreck

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/apr/20/hold-steady-heaven-whenever STREAM

Digging: Spoon - They Want My Soul

Satellite
April 22nd 2010



20679 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Amazing review man. I'm glad you didn't spend a ton of time talking about Franz not being involved with this one; that's what almost everyone seems to be focused on.

Hurricane J hits me really hard. It's almost ridiculous how much I can relate to it right now (insofar as the girl is a waitress... haha).

Digging: Dikembe - Mediumship

Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

thanks dude and yeah i thought about how much i should talk about franz leaving but after i'd listened to this more i sort of realized that he's so far removed from what they're doing here that it just becomes a bit irrelevant

agree about hurricane j. that's always been my favourite part of the hold steady too. there's so much to hold on to.


Athom
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2010



17197 Comments


another great album for this beastly year

BigHans
April 22nd 2010



26455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Jesus Christ you are a good writer. I'm afraid to review this now, but I will have to to complete my discog.

BigHans
April 22nd 2010



26455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm a little dissapointed in some of the new direction, I can't stand Barely Breathing actually, We Can Get Together throws me off, and the majority of a Slight Discomfort is pretty boring, although the fist pumping ending is awesome.

My faves are Hurricane J (insanely catchy), Weekenders (ditto), Sweet Part of the City (for the sweet bluegrass guitar and Minneapolis references), Soft in the Center (melodic), and Rock Problems (anthemic).

I think that about covers it.

porch
April 22nd 2010



8451 Comments


nice review as usual kirg. almost made me want to give them another chance

Knott-
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



10194 Comments


first track bores me to hell,rest is mostly good, need to spin a few more times before rating, will probs be a 3/3.5

Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hurricane j and weekenders are my favourites too hans but i adore we can get together. it might be all the references that i actually get for a change or the mushy chorus but its such a pretty song. thanks, as well!

next time, porch. i'll convert you.

SrightryEpic
April 22nd 2010



1195 Comments


haven't listened to this yet will I like this someone decide for me

tuk
April 22nd 2010



151 Comments


I kinda like The Smidge with its Dire Straits vibe. Album as a whole is pretty chill.

BigHans
April 22nd 2010



26455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Porch, if Boys and Girls in America can't convert you I doubt this will, but you should try it anyway. Like right now.

Inveigh
April 22nd 2010



24800 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

oh man, good review. I only listened to this in the background the other day when it was streaming, I need to give it another spin.

Satellite
April 22nd 2010



20679 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

"You're too hard already, you'll only get harder."

That's what she said.

BigHans
April 22nd 2010



26455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hurricane Jessies coming straight through the heart of the summer.

Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

the "who the hell is the blue guy?" line in "barely breathing" always makes me smile because shelter's whole hare krishna hardcore shtick is so odd in itself.

BigHans
April 22nd 2010



26455 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hurricane J hits me really hard. It's almost ridiculous how much I can relate to it right now (insofar as the girl is a waitress... haha).

^ I worked in a restaurant all through college, including at age 22. Dated a chick exactly like Jessie. Ended up getting married. Now divorced. Ah, memories.

AggravatedYeti
April 22nd 2010



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

such a killer album

oh yeah review is okay I GUESS

Hurricane J is the shit as well 'then why do you keep going out to his car?!'

Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i dont want this to stop i want you to knowww

ohnoestehmusik
April 22nd 2010



380 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Good review, annoying but still somehow listen-able band.



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