Rock Aficionados have almost run out of ways to describe the Hold Steady. The Brooklyn (by way of Minneapolis) band is on its fourth disc of brain-y rock, which has referenced everything from Springsteen to Kerouac, with Gibson Les Paul's cranked to 11. Coming off the terrific one-two punch of their first two albums, the band attempts to flip the script a bit this time out. Perhaps tired of the "classic rock" pigeonhole, lyricist-lead singer Craig Finn and the rest of the Steadies use Stay Positive as a platform — or a skate-ramp — to pay tribute to the snarling beloved hardcore punk of their youth.
It's important to remember, however, that these dudes were name-checking "Bones Brigade" skate vids on songs like "Hornets! Hornets!" — in between Cheap Trick riffs — back in '05. Besides, you can find more than a few interviews with Finn praising the likes of Jawbreaker and the Descendents. And so with a nod to "Saint Joe Strummer" and imagery of young punks "pounding it out on floor toms," the opening "Constructive Summer" is more Bad Brains than Bad Company, complete with buzzsaw riffs and a chugging tempo that'll send more than a few ex-hardcorers careening headfirst into the moshpit. "Navy Sheets" works in similar ways, even when matched alongside some out-of-place synths. The title track, meanwhile, simultaneously references Youth of Today, Seven Seconds and the band's own aforementioned "Hornets! Hornets!"
But Stay Positive isn't all blast-beats and straight-edge beat downs. These guys still know what they do best — Replacements-like jangle gems ("Sequestered in Memphis," "Magazines") and songs about drugs and parties ("One for the Cutters"). Thus, not everything has changed. But sometimes it sounds like there might be a copy of Thrasher magazine stuck behind that deluxe edition of On the Road in their guitar cases this time around.
The Hold Steady plays Friday, July 18, at the Crofoot Ballroom, 1 S. Saginaw, Pontiac; 313-912-7568.
Ryan Allen writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].