Still Positive

I noted in my review of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive that it might just be the most complicated thing the band’s yet done– and the plot only thickens when you hear the three bonus cuts included on the deluxe edition of the album, which is in stores today.

Never mind for now that the three songs are all really stellar– in fact, had the three weakest songs on the actual album been replaced with these three new ones, it would be a much better record, perhaps even on par with Separation Sunday. What’s really interesting is what is said, and left unsaid, on these new songs. On the one hand, they’re every bit as bloody and weary as the album cuts; there are references to aging, to blood in the streets, even an acknowledgment that “we’re not getting any younger.” There are also cameos from two of Craig Finn’s favorite characters– Holly the hoodrat and Gideon the pimp– who both play important roles in Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America, but don’t appear on any of the Stay Positive album cuts. And Finn triples his rock and roll name-check score; while the studio cuts reference Led Zeppelin and The Clash, the new songs add nods to Barry White, The Rolling Stones, and The Ramones, and Al Green.

But even more than that, they broaden The Hold Steady’s musical palette more than ever before. “Cheyenne Sunrise,” in particular, might be the least Hold steady-ish thing they’ve yet cut, a bluesy, country-flavored piano ballad that’s wonderfully wistful and soulful. “Ask Her for Adderall,” meanwhile, is a hot Hold Steady rocker that deserves the prominent place its had in their live set, and the last of the bonus cuts, “Two-Handed Handshake,” is a mid-tempo piece that gradually builds to a finale of handbells and “Walk the Line”-style horns. All three cuts are superb, and, if there’s any complaint to be found with them, it’s that they didn’t make the regular album, while lesser cuts like “Navy Sheets” and “Magazines” did.

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