The Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn might want to thinking in investing in a different type of lady.
I mean, for his emotional health: The crazy, tortured, damaged sort of ladies he’s been writing about for five albums now — including the band’s latest, Heaven Is Whenever — have given him plenty of worthy material, but the guy has gotta be exhausted.
As usual, with Heaven, Finn and his Brooklyn-based buddies deliver on the anthemic, bar-rocking tunes that have become their signature sound. The guys kick things off with the mellow country track “The Sweet Part of the City,” an ode to the band’s hometown of Minneapolis.
From there, the band’s sound begins to build, with a string of tracks that are right up the band’s rambunctious alley. Tracks like “The Weekenders” and “The Smidge” bring Finn’s typically nasal vocal delivery and world-weary evocations of time gone by back to the album.
One of the album’s most interesting tracks comes in the form of a drastic change from the band’s usual aesthetic around the midpoint, with “We Can Get Together,” a shimmering track full of harmonies that elegizes Heavenly and Talulah Gosh drummer Matthew Fletcher, who committed suicide at the age of 25 back in 1996. With lyrics celebrating good old rock ’n’ roll and lamenting wasted youth, Finn’s songwriting has rarely been more poignant.
While the album might not be quite as immediate or memorable as 2006’s breakthrough Boys and Girls in America, there’s still a lot to love here. A track title from Heaven is Whenever sums the album’s appeal up perfectly: While the band has got this rough, punky exterior, it is undeniably “Soft in the Center,” its heart never hidden beneath the bluster and bravado.