The Hold Steady toasted 20 years as a band last month, a milestone – indeed, practically a miracle – in today’s frenetic music scene. Holding true to their roots, the band’s blue collar rock blend has taken them from the underground to the mainstream and back again, refusing to budge an inch in their approach. ‘The Price Of Progress’ is testament to their enduring stubbornness – it’s definitely one for fans, while also lacking any real sense of momentum.
Opener ‘Grand Junction’ is all crunching guitars and literate pen, with Craig Finn’s half-spoken vocals presaging the current sprechgesang wave by a good decade or so. It’s a record replete with punchy moments – the rush of ‘Sideways Skull’ or the narrative heft that sits behind ‘Sixers’.
In a way, The Hold Steady are almost damned by their continual excellence. How much here, say, can truly compare with 2008’s ‘Stay Positive’? The standards aren’t slipping in terms of songcraft, but there isn’t a lot on display to grab you, especially when the catalogue is already so strong. Indeed, there are some places where the record lapses into a snooze. ‘City At Eleven’ has a knowing if faltering bar-room strut, while ‘Carlos Is Crying’ feels a little stodgy.
Ultimately, anyone who has ever heard a Hold Steady song knows exactly what to expect from this record. Craig Finn’s novelistic flair remains the fulcrum, and while it certainly doesn’t allow their light to dim it equally doesn’t catch fire at any point. ‘The Price Of Progress’ is a perfectly functional Hold Steady record, no more and no less.
Words: Robin Murray
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