Boys And Girls In America | Vagrant
Like many of America’s smartest rock bands — from Fountains of Wayne to the Drive-By Truckers — this Minneapolis-to-Brooklyn quintet are an anomaly. With their third album they’ve moved to youth-culture central at Vagrant and earned high praise from the hipster judges at Pitchfork. Yet as frontman Craig Finn tries singing instead of just reciting and the band hang tighter around their major-chord riffs, the music sounds older than ever, recalling beautiful-loser ’70s rock like Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” And Franz Nicolay at times tinkles the ivories with such abandon, he could be the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan tripping on mushrooms. Which he might well be except that, like Springsteen’s E Street, the Hold Steady are empathetic spokespeople for fucked-up youth, not fucked-up youth themselves, and their boss is like the Boss — a reprobate Catholic obsessed with redemption. Finn’s American boys and girls make pipes from Pringles cans, are great kissers but lousy lovers, yearn for “guys with the hot soft eyes,” and flip through radio stations as if they were searching for salvation. If they stumbled across the Hold Steady, they — unlike Bruce’s boys and girls — might even smirk and move on. But that’s one more reason a smart agnostic like you shouldn’t.