CD review: The Hold Steady

Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant)

You'll probably recognize some of the characters on the Hold Steady's fifth album. But there are a few new faces walking around too. The guy who connects with a girl over Hüsker Dü in "We Can Get Together" is an old friend. So is the shifty dude who tells Jesse "I'll never ask you to change/I'll only ask you to try" in "Hurricane J." But the aging hipster offering advice to a young kid in "Soft in the Center" and the reflective "Our Whole Lives" add new personalities to the Hold Steady canon. The loud guitars that drive many of Heaven Is Whenever's songs are also new. Keyboardist Franz Nicolay left the band earlier this year, and his absence is palpable. The Springsteenian sprawl at the center of the Hold Steady's best albums, Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls in America, is missed. Still, "The Weekenders" and "Hurricane J" wander musically and lyrically familiar wastelands. But this time everything's a whole lot heavier. — Michael Gallucci

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