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Album review: The Hold Steady's 'Heaven Is Whenever'

May 3, 2010 |  7:10 pm

THE_HOLD_STEADY_240_ The Hold Steady always caught flack for being a mock bar band, but somewhere along the way it became an actual bar band. As in the kind of band that makes solid and near-identical albums every few years, each destined to soundtrack backyard barbecues circa 2025, when its current fan base will be yelling at their kids to quit hitting each other with grill tongs.

With "Heaven Is Whenever," the Hold Steady finally lost the scare quotes and really did become the hipster AC/DC. This is not a knock. Its knack for dissembling the line between earnest riffage and cheeky homage is intact — "The Weekenders" and "Hurricane J" stand with the best cuts of its career, and certainly the most heartfelt. Singer Craig Finn has largely dialed down the meandering Twin Cities travelogues for more intimately cutting turns of phrase — "You can't get every girl, you'll get the ones you love the best / You won't get every girl, you'll love the ones you get the best."

The band definitely misses its Snidely Whiplash-evoking keyboardist Franz Nicolay, and while a gentle country cut like "The Sweet Part of the City" or AM ballad "We Can Get Together" shows broader ambitions, "Heaven" already feels a bit preserved in amber — maybe the amber of a spilled Schlitz tall boy, but still.

— August Brown

The Hold Steady
"Heaven Is Whenever"
Two and a half stars (Out of four)

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