The Hold Steady: “Heaven is Whenever”

My brief review of The Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever is posted at CT. I join most of the rest of the music-listening world in being fairly disappointed with this one. This is a band that’s made two five-star classics in my book– Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America— and another two albums that aren’t too far behind, but this new one feels slight and transitional. Interestingly, it’s the least Hold Steady-ish numbers– the ones that experiment with their arrangements and explore new influences– that excite me most; these songs suggest that the band still has a lot of life left in them, whereas the typical Hold Steady anthems are beginning to feel stagnant, something that isn’t helped by Craig Finn’s lyrics, which just don’t carry the weight that they usually do here. It’s hardly a waste, but it is their first album yet to be anything less than stellar.

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4 responses to “The Hold Steady: “Heaven is Whenever””

  1. Rick Bennett says :

    I join most of the rest of the music-listening world in being fairly disappointed with this one.

    Not sure who you are joining. Rolling Stone and Paste give it 4 out of 5 stars, which is not an indication of disappointment. Sure, notoriously finicky Pitchfork and Spin are less sure, but there is no consensus to the disappointment you claim. In fact, Metacritic (who I looked up when you said many were disappointed) shows 77, which is almost a 4 star review consensus.

    Many of my friends are falling in love with the subtlety of this album, which is not evident upon first listen.

    In fact, its maturity is striking, as is the upfront guitar work in light of personnel changes. I am impressed with the fact they are moving beyond the same old narratives, which I loved by the way to something grown up.

    Sure, it may not reach the heights of the last 2. But, dare I say, it might. It is a completely different experience and it needs to be judged by what is happening with a band finally growing up and moving from Bukowski to Vonnegut.

  2. Josh Hurst says :

    Rick, I certainly respect your perspective here, and hope to one day enjoy the album as much as you do. So far, it isn’t happening for me, but that’s largely a matter of expectations; it’s not that I think it’s a bad album so much as it isn’t in the same league as their past works, in my opinion.

    And my comment about the critical consensus was written, admittedly, before many reviews of the album were published, though I maintain that the critical reaction has been much less positive than it was with their last 2 or 3 albums.

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