The Hold Steady
The Price Of Progress


3.9
excellent

Review

by Atari STAFF
April 2nd, 2023 | 21 replies


Release Date: 03/31/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Nothing is ever as simple as it initially seems with Craig Finn.

The following make an appearance on The Price of Progress: Robert Plant, black market cigarettes, church bells, flags made from bedsheets, LeBron James, a Skipper’s restaurant, and much more!

What do these things have in common? Probably nothing in theory, but this is simply part of Craig Finn’s genius. When he goes on a tangent, it’s a thing to behold; his unique perspectives and vocal inflections converge for an art form of their own. As the eccentric lead vocalist and songwriter of The Hold Steady for 25 years, he’s mastered the ability to turn the most ordinary day-to-day things into some sort of smoked-out philosophy – each album propping up average Joe’s as superheroes in the face of life’s darkest corners.

Ah yes, there’s a whole lot of puzzling but brilliant nonsense floating around in Finn’s head, and this is as obvious as ever on The Price of Progress, the ninth album with his bigger-than-life bar band. This time it translates to the most structureless, bizarre set of tunes by The Hold Steady to date, reversing course from the more pop-oriented sheen of 2021’s Open Door Policy into a more nuanced version of their signature rock and roll. Throughout the album, a generous mixture of trumpets, keys, and distorted guitars seem to be in constant rotation over Finn’s traditional spilling of the guts. Everything has a more improvisation feel to it, with several songs that are hugely ambitious but unpredictable. This is evident in the cinematic and bouncy “Sixers”, which examines someone in the throes of addiction, but not in the way you might expect. Finn and co. don’t conjure up images of a hopeless dope fiend with a needle buried in their arm. Rather, this is someone who escapes from reality, watching basketball reruns with a pill bottle companion in reach. It could be me or you. This may sound gloomy, but the constant bursts of energy throughout the song give it an optimistic and magnetic appeal.

There’s also a dark sense of humor and increased level of retrospection on The Price of Progress. On “Understudies”, Finn touches on how his passion for playing music has taken a toll on his mental health, sounding noticeably exhausted as he croons: it’s hard to sleep after performing. And it’s hard not to smirk amidst the harmonic “ooh-ooh’s” sung over “Sideways Skull’s” crowd-ready hook: She’d like me better if I didn’t wear glasses. At some point, you have to stop and wonder just where Craig Finn truly ends and his quirky characters begin. There always seem to be little gems of truth buried throughout his ramblings; this is perhaps more evident than ever as the songwriter spends more time looking in the rearview mirror throughout The Price of Progress. In a gleeful throwback, the boisterous “Flyover Halftime” resurrects a killer guitar riff from the band’s 2004 debut. It’s a joyous, no-frills rocker that reminds you why you fell in love with The Hold Steady in the first place.

Unfortunately, there are also several moments on The Price of Progress that don’t quite land. “City at Eleven” has very little going for it, and not even Craig Finn’s lyrical finesse or charisma seem to pull their typical weight over the directionless guitars. They bend with a sleazy distortion throughout, but I’m left feeling indifferent: a rare result for any track by The Hold Steady. I have some mixed feelings about “Perdido” as well, but at least it’s a pleasant listen albeit being a tad boring. It has a lot of gentle orchestral touches and a solid atmosphere that suits a more wistful vocal performance by Finn; probably at least worth queuing up for your next long car ride.

Let me level with you: writing this review sucked. I’m not convinced I’d feel differently if I covered the band’s last album, or the one before that. Nothing is ever as simple as it initially seems with Craig Finn; his songs are lyrical Rubik’s cubes that refuse to be solved. One of the album’s most dynamic tracks, “The Birdwatchers, is a dense concoction that pairs some of the most vibrant horn sections in The Hold Steady’s history with off-kilter tempo changes and keys that must be snagged from a baby’s naptime selection. It’s without a doubt the album’s most ominous and unfamiliar tune, and I’m here for it. Despite some of its little imperfections, The Price of Progress only solidifies the band’s position as the most philosophical and whacky dudes currently making rock music. From the slowed tempo of the cinematic opener “Grand Junction” to the animated “Sixers”, they’ve crafted some of the most unpredictable and sweeping arrangements yet. This is an odd one, folks. And like much of Finn’s work, I’ll be racking my brain on its many idiosyncrasies for the foreseeable future.



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user ratings (35)
3.4
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

hard to go wrong with this band or pretty much anything Craig Finn touches. I'm not biased I promise ;)



might not be the album of their career but still has some of the best songs

Pajolero
April 2nd 2023


1428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I am absolutely overjoyed to see this band contrinue to produce some of their best stuff so late into their careers. Now if only they would tour continental Europe ): There's no amount of money I wouldn't spend to see them.

SlothcoreSam
April 2nd 2023


6216 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Story telling in this one is excellent. The back end is a lot better than the beginning.

Storm In A Teacup
April 2nd 2023


45780 Comments


Interesting. Checking this band and album out now.

Squiggly
April 2nd 2023


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

“Carlos is Crying” and “The Birdwatchers” are fantastic. This feels like Open Door Policy part 2 tho, so still not sure what to rate it.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

The review summary Gods have spoken, lmao. I just couldn’t be bothered apparently



I actually think this is quite different than ODP, especially as far as the production goes.



@Storm, surprised you haven’t heard this band yet! Hope you dig them

Odal
Staff Reviewer
April 2nd 2023


2085 Comments


This was a solid album. These guys scratch a very specific itch that I rarely get, but it's awesome to see them still flourishing in their own little corner of the world

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 3rd 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

I rarely get it either which is a huge part of the appeal for me. takes a few listens just to scratch the surface of the lyrics

anat
Contributing Reviewer
April 3rd 2023


5755 Comments


think this band is only getting better with age

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 3rd 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

yeah def no signs of slowing down! I'm glad they seem to have a cult following but feel like they should get more hype around here

Squiggly
April 3rd 2023


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Agreed that Sideways Skull is really corny.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 3rd 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

cheers Colton!



Sideways Skull grew on me quite a bit despite feeling somewhat lukewarm on it at first. The Birdwatchers and the closer are potentially my favs tho

pizzamachine
April 4th 2023


27223 Comments


You know what they say…

tom79
April 4th 2023


3936 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Loving this recent surge of output (not that they ever really went away but there was a lull). These last two records are the best they've done since Stay Positive imo. Band is just too solid, and no one sounds like them. For me these guys have reached a point where they could be on autopilot and I still enjoy it. They're doing their thing and I'm here for it. Production doesn't bother me. Idk maybe I'm just not too critical, but I've been listening to these guys for 15 years and I like them now more than ever. Great review too btw.

Pajolero
April 4th 2023


1428 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Couldn't have said it better myself @tom

Squiggly
April 4th 2023


1264 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I feel like I can’t fairly judge the production cause I listen to most music on my shitty airpods lol

Sowing
Moderator
April 5th 2023


43955 Comments


This is a great review. I've only ever really gotten into Craig Finn's solo stuff, especially I Need A New War. If this is anything like that, then I (1) definitely need to be in the right mood for it and also (2) should listen to it anyway because when the mood hits right, there's nothing quite like his storytelling.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
April 5th 2023


5903 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review Atari!



This is decent but something seems to be lacking compared to some other records from the band/Craig Finn's solo output.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
April 6th 2023


27973 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

much love everyone!!



@tom79, right on! I feel the same way minus the 15 year part. didn't get on THS/Craig Finn band wagon until a few years ago but feel like I enjoy everything he's a part of.



@Sowing, I Need a New War is a 5 that's for sure. BUT I would highly recommend spending more time with this band as well. I think it's quite different than most his solo material in terms of sound, but similar as far as the brilliant storytelling goes. will be curious to hear your thoughts if you dive deeper!



and cheers Sunny! found this one to be a bit of a grower but I know how cliché that sounds these days. not completely sold on every track but the standouts make up for that imo. glad you thought it was decent at least :]

someone
Contributing Reviewer
September 27th 2023


6643 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Great review. Look at you, proving that Staff badge.



Love me so Finn. I find it funny how the Hold Steady often just sound like the louder, electric guitar-laced Craig Finn solo stuff.



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