"There's an expansiveness, a sense of space to this album which The Hold Steady hasn't ever allowed itself before. Several songs are familiarly "Hold Steadyish" with the loud, crunchy guitars fans are used to ("Hurricane J", "Rock Problems"), but the two openers, "The Sweet Part of the City" and "Soft in the Center", for instance are breezy, roomy rock numbers with Craig Finn sounding more at ease with himself than ever before. If their previous album, Stay Positive, is, as the band said, about aging with grace in a youth-oriented rock culture, Heaven Is Whenever sees The Hold Steady settling in as confident elder statesmen. At the same time, Finn is still giving props to his past and his predecessors -- "Barely Breathing" tells a fun story about hardcore easing into its late '80s post-heyday, for instance, and the lush "We Can Get Togehter" consist of a whirlwind of references that even the most astute afficianado will need three or more listens to completely catalog.
The musical branching-out reflected in this album might leave some fans running (or pining) for the more anthemic Separation Sunday or Boys and Girls in America -- and the band could probably have pulled off more-of-the-same with aplomb. But this seems to be a band comfortable enough with itself and knowledgable enough about its own abilities to want to continue to stretch, experiment and diversify. Much has been made in fan circles, for example, about the absence of a soaring stadium rock-style solo which Tad Kubler played at the end of "We Can Get Together" during the tour preceding the album's release. But the ballad-with-big-ending solo structure would have mirrored previous songs like "Lord, I'm Discouraged" from Stay Positive, and, let's face it, every '80s hair band did that. It gets old quick.
Unlike The Hold Steady.
And unlike Heaven Is Whenever, which streamed on NPR for a few weeks before its release and bore repeated listens via tinny computer. Hearing the CD on a proper system, however, transforms the experience -- there's a warmth and richness to the production, so much more going on musically than mere loud riffy guitar and shouted lyrics; it makes one long for one of the rare vinyl copies and even for the heyday of vinyl itself.
Heaven Is Whenver might be a transitional album, given the departure of Franz Nicolay's distinctive keyboard, but its destination is a bigger, better, more generous place, and it's going there in broad, confident strides."
They sound bored.
Runhotstuff | California | 05/19/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I know most reviews of this album that have given it a low rating will start out like "I loved their previous albums but..." Here is what they are all trying to say. It's not the lack of crunch that is the problem. It's the lack of swagger. It's not the lack of sing along that is the problem, it's the lack of passion behind the sing a long. The previous album was a "work about maturing out of the party scene." If that was true then this is the balding guy in the cubical next to you worried about his hybrid sitting under a tree and getting crapped on by birds. He's going to go home and watch the food network drink a glass of warm milk, make sure his 5 hairs are in place, put on his flannel pajamas and go to bed. In short this album sounds tired. It sounds safe. It sounds like a band past the party and now just really really tired."
"We play in a rock and roll band"--Craig Finn on Stephen Col
Timothy P. Young | Rawlins, WY, USA | 05/15/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Hold Steady is continually confounding. The first album I picked up was Boys and Girls in America...its combination of Springsteen-esque song structures, punk attitudes, and intelligent lyrics pulled me in early and made me want more. So I moved onto their first album Almost Killed Me...which was radically different, except for the intelligent lyrics and attitude. Somehow, though, it all sounded like the same band...the identity at the core of the music was solid and likable. It's easy to say that the identity belongs to Craig Finn, since he's the singer and lyricist, but that would be doing the rest of the band a disservice. Tad Kubler's guitars do just as much to form the core of this band, and the rock solid yet versatile rhythm section provides incredible support.
Which brings us to the new album, Heaven Is Whenever. At first listen it seems almost radio-ready, with the Wilcoisms of "Sweet Part of the City" and the doo-wop rhythms of "We Can Get Together." But it's so much more than that. This is a varied album, ranging from rockers that will please any long time Hold Steady fan, like "Hurricane J" and "Soft in the Center," which is home to my current favorite line from the album ('You can't tell people what they wanna hear if you also want to tell the truth') to new sounds and experiments with lusher production (the aforementioned "Sweet Part of the City" and the album closer "A Slight Discomfort."
Since their last album, Stay Positive, the Hold Steady has been moving away from the in your face musical aggression that characterized their earlier albums. This is neither a good nor bad thing, for their live shows remain as energetic and amazing as ever, mixing old with new seamlessly. However, it is interesting to hear them evolving, making greater use of the studio, exploring new directions in their playing.
If you don't know the band, Heaven is Whenever would be an excellent starting point. If you're already a fan, get ready to be challenged yet again by the best American band out there right now."
Riveting American rock storytelling
Charlie Quaker | Normal, IL. | 05/17/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The 4th release from this New York band is brilliant storytelling roots-based rock that flows like a slice-of-life American novel. The lyrics have an emotional & perceptive, resigned weariness that accepts things as there are and revels in the existence of the moment. The songs are played by indie rock veterans who care about what they're doing, and Craig Finn's voice is utterly compelling. It feels like a grower. Similarities to Drive-By Truckers, Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, Titus Andronicus, The Clash. "
Still good, but not exciting
Antiquity | USA | 06/15/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Hold Steady make exciting albums. Listening to Separation Sunday even today sounds so in my face; a unique record and band. Their albums since then haven't quite matched that, but they have come close and contain thrilling songs. This album doesn't have the edge of the others. It still contains good tunes and I like it, but I don't love it. The Weekenders is their poppiest song to date, sounds like Green Day. Again, not a bad song, but it's no Cattle and the Creeping Things. My favorite song is the first, which introduces a new sound to their arsenal in a good way."