The Hold Steady’s New Album Offers a Steady Push Forward

The Hold Steady | Open Door Policy | (Positive Jams)
Four Stars out of Five

The Hold Steady have never been what the pundits generally refer to as an “alternative outfit.” While there is some sense of insurgence, at least as far as their specific approach is concerned, they fall more in line with a kind of populist playbook, one that often evokes the rousing anthemic approach that one might liken to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band or Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, a sound that encourages the crowd to pump their fists and wave their cellphones as if for a common cause. 

That said, their songs often come from a decidedly personal perspective, one that finds singer/guitarist Craig Finn expounding on his own observations or the conflicts that confound him, perhaps as a means of avoiding a weekly trip to his therapist. He conveys his sentiments with a constant nudge, and if he occasionally opts to go over the top, he only does so in order to give due diligence to an appropriate proportioning of edge and angst. It also seems that he sometimes has need to express himself beyond the confines of his erstwhile ensemble; indeed, the concurrent release of his exceptional new solo album, All The Perfect Crosses, finds him pursuing a somewhat similar path. A companion piece to a comic book of the same name, it puts his personal posturing in further focus.

Back to the Brooklyn-based band’s collective offering, the all so inviting Open Door Policy. It finds them tackling a variety of issues— power, wealth, mental health, drug addiction, spirituality, technology, capitalism, consumerism, as well as basic survival, each a concern that’s come firmly to the fore in the wake of the pandemic and today’s political divide. Expressed from a first person point of view, the music comes across with a sense of unease, urgency and uncertainty, which, in turn, boosts both interest and intrigue. Clearly, The Hold Steady are intent on burrowing below the surface in their pursuit of principle and propriety. 

That’s especially evident on the propulsive “The Prior Procedure,” the urgency found in “Spices,” the dynamism of “Family Farm,” and the insistent, rap-ready “Me and Magdalena.” Any indication that the band are in their own secretive space is quickly dispensed once those rollicking rhythms kick in. Indeed, even a seemingly meditative melody like “Hanover Camera” gathers momentum once it gives way to its determined delivery.

Inevitably, it’s that dynamic combination which makes Open Door Policy such an effective effort. All are welcome to share in its riches.

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