As easy as it is to appreciate The Hold Steady and the mark they’ve made on rootsier indie-rock, there’s definitely cause to be concerned about this new album. For one, it’s less a traditional album and more a bundle of the singles they’ve released over the past year or so with a few new tracks tacked on, which can prove to be the first red flag when none of those singles have been particularly memorable. They’ve certainly not been bad, and as far as capturing The Hold Steady’s signature sound, they’ve done that well, but compiling them into a more long-form release can feel like a strange move, if only because the number of them that have initially felt like disposable cuts for the sidelines hasn’t exactly been insignificant, and for a band with as much pull as this, that’s not a good move to take. Still, there’s a creative prolificness to The Hold Steady that’s hard to ignore (especially when frontman Craig Finn released an entire other album earlier this year), and while the doubts remain, there’s enough good will given to them already that they definitely have the chance of succeeding.
But really, the stability that The Hold Steady have displayed time and time again does oust a lot of those qualms, especially when Thrashing Thru The Passion actually manages to align its disparate pieces for something incredibly solid. It’s definitely in line with what’s become expected of this band at this point, but Thrashing Thru The Passion still has the energy to hit with a good amount of vigour, and the burnished Americana presentation that’s always been The Hold Steady’s calling card as far as timeless rock music goes. Even for as derivative of itself as it is, it’s hard to deny that this is a formula that really does work, and there’s no change in that here.
Saying that though, that’s probably what holds Thrashing Thru The Passion back the most. The Hold Steady embracing their consistency isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they’re hardly pushing the envelope with the gruffer indie-rock presentation that, by design, operates hugely on the basis of function over fashion. Of course, it’s not like there’s nothing here that stands out, particularly with the splashing horns across the album that compensate for the vibrancy that the base sound might lack on You Did Good Kid and Traditional Village. Paired with swirling organs and pianos on Blackout Sam and T-Shirt Tux, there’s a movement towards a theatricality that still places an emphasis on the music rather than the spectacle (in no small part aided by a decent roughened production job), but also picks up plenty of swing and groove that’s remarkably infectious. Finn is definitely a strong anchoring presence among this as well, and even if a rather clipped range can feel a bit awkward at times – and there are points where he sounds like he’s singing through a blocked nose – there’s enough of an everyman charm to his performance and detailed storytelling in the writing that holds firm to the rootsy indie-rock playbook in a really solid way. It mightn’t be anything new, but The Hold Steady know how make the most of the evergreen sound they’ve cultivated, and Thrashing Thru The Passion is another fine example of that.
Sure, it limits what can be said overall, but to some degree, that’s a feature of The Hold Steady more than a flaw. They’ve reached a point where they’ve got every right to simply build on what they’ve already got instead of making any significant changes, and Thrashing Thru The Passion is a great example of just what that can achieve. This is another smart, enjoyable slice of indie-rock from a band who’ve turned that into a regular occurrence, and when they’re still making it as solid as this, it’s hard to complain too much. Maybe it’s not essential to anyone but the most vehement of completionists, but in this particular vein of music, there’s far worse albums to listen to than this one.
For fans of: The Gaslight Anthem, The Replacements, The Weakerthans
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Thrashing Thru The Passion’ by The Hold Steady is released on 16th August on Frenchkiss Records.