A fine return from the indie rock institution...

Brooklyn six-piece The Hold Steady are an NYC indie-rock institution. The band’s revered songwriter Craig Finn plumbs the depths of the human condition to tell stories that explore power, wealth, mental health, technology, capitalism, consumerism, and survival – issues which have compounded over the last 12 months. Their seventh studio album ‘Thrashing Thru The Passion’, released 15 years after their debut, showed the band rejuvenated, receiving critical praise far and wide in 2019. Now, they’ve unveiled their eighth collection of poetically punky musical works which carries their fresh momentum to expansive heights.

Sonically, ‘Open Door Policy’ sees The Hold Steady explore new textures including horns which feature prominently on tracks like ‘Heavy Covenant’ and ‘Hanover Camera’. “It feels like our most musically expansive record,” says Finn in a press release, but their characteristic backbone of driving rock guitars and piano breaks still holds the fore, especially in lead single ‘Family Farm’ which pays homage to the late Eddie Van Halen with a lyrical reference to his track ‘Eruption’.

The album’s upbeat energy is feverish. It allows space for comical and witty intervention among its deeper subjects – “waging war for popcorn and potato chips” (‘Me & Magdalena’) – and doesn’t delve into the realms of taking itself too seriously. Furthermore, this record exposes a band who, after almost two decades in the game, are still enjoying what they’re doing and their close-knit chemistry befits their band name.

Finn’s lyrical observations once more take centre stage in ‘Open Door Policy’. Producer Josh Kauffman’s vocal mix is throat grabbing as Finn’s Beat style delivery flows like Kerouac or Ginsberg; blowing it all out with no detail concealed. “When you’re stuck out in the middle, you just figure that there’s something you’re missing,” he introspectively proclaims in ‘Lanyards’, while “seeing seagulls eat cigarettes” paints alliteratively vivid observations in the bittersweet ‘Unpleasant Breakfast’.

However, with this being The Hold Steady, the taste of alcohol is never far. You can almost smell the ageing booze-soaked wood of the bar as you breathe in the dust of the age-old curtains and piano perched in the corner. Finn’s lyrics ingrain themselves within the cracks of the tables and chairs - the home for where his tales should be told - and you can’t help but reminisce over that feeling of camaraderie embraced on late drunken nights as the band revel in renewed joy with ‘Open Door Policy’. 

8/10

Words: Jamie Wilde

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