Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hold Steady's Constructive Strummer

The buzzsaw guitar that opens “Constructive Summer”, as well as the Hold Steady’s messy and glorious new cd, Stay Positive, is a call to arms for curly indie kids, spastic punk rockers and and graying classic rockers – here’s a band to bridge the gaps and a seven nation army for all camps to hail as the latest saviors of rock and roll.

After three increasingly magnificent records (the spoken word art punk of Almost Killed Me, the epic Separation Sunday, the more structured and polished but no less amazing devastation of Boys And Girls in America), it only takes six seconds to realize that Stay Positive continues The Hold Steady’s incredible hot streak.

“Constructive Summer” opening lyrics:

“Me and my friends are like
The drums on Lust for Life
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs”

It’s the most succinct summation of The Hold Steady circa 2008… the inclusiveness (”me and my friends”), the rock and roll definition ("the drums on Lust for Life”), the shared celebration (“we pound it on floor toms”) and the mass celebration that takes place during their beer stoked, sweat soaked shows (“our psalms are sing along songs”). And at this point we’re still only 26 seconds into not only song of the summer, but the song of the year, maybe the song of the last five years.

Later in the song we get references to obscure punk bands (“doublewhiskeycokenoice ”) and not-so-obscure punk bands (“Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer”) as well as an exhortation to be all you can be (“Let this be my annual reminder / That we can all be something bigger”). There’s also drinking, small town ennui, more drinking, the Word of forgiveness, tribute to fallen comrades, self-empowerment and of course, more drinking. And all this in less than three minutes!

All the familiar topics are in place in this record – damaged women looking for salvation, addictions in need of salvation, small town romance dance as sin’s salvation, escape from Catholic salvation and ultimately, rock and roll as our ultimate, if temporal, salvation. Stay Positive is The Hold Steady’s Pulp Fiction as it time shifts and tackles the issue of salvation and redemption while exposing the ugliness of daily addiction and the mundane reporting on a multitude of casualties – some who seek and find a way out, but most who stay and live imperfect lives intermittently saved by rock and roll.

The virgin vampires of “Navy Sheets (“Now we’re trying to find a DNA match”) show up earlier as the holed up kids in “Sequestered in Memphis” and later we find one of them strung out in “Lord I’m Discouraged”. And then it sounds like the emotionally distant crush casualty from Boys and Girls in America’s “Chips Ahoy” shows up just about everywhere. For a real in-depth look at what makes this album great, read this, my favorite Stay Positive review to date.
But back to "Constructive Summer" (and by the way, name a better song released this year and I'll buy you beer all night long) - that opening Clash '77 killer Kubler blast that's quickly wedded with the Jerry Lee Lewis piano pounding is the exact moment where The Hold Steady fuses their punk rock roots with their ever-widening arena rock ambition. The song is capped off by a moving salute to the venerated "saint" Joe Strummer, who espoused the DIY ethic and rock and roll passion that The Hold Steady are using to build something big this summer.

Constructive Summer (Non-COMM version)
The Clash - White Riot
Joe Strummer - Coma Girl


Anonymous said...

Perfectly said. I'll buy my own beers!


Andy Whitman said...

I agree. Song of the year. Not quite album of the year for me, but close. Top 10, easily.