Although the record isn't due out for another few weeks (July 15th, to be exact), over at their Myspace page The Hold Steady currently have Stay Positive, in its entirety, streaming for free!
I have quite a few lengthy things to say about the brilliance of Stay Positive, so please continue on after the jump to hear me rant about why this record may prove to be the finest in their catalog, and why The Hold Steady are easily the greatest working band in rock and roll.
Opening track "Constructive Summer" is huge. Real huge. Probably as big and hooky and chorus-y as this record gets (well, maybe with the exception of the title track), and is a great kick off to this record. And right now, with this endless gray outside, it gives me goosebumps thinking about what this summer is going to be like, and Craig Finn's words hit home like gospel truth. When he sings "let this by my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger", it makes me want to get my ass in gear and start doing everything I've been putting off. The song also has a very, duh, Springsteen-like quality to it, especially the whole "working in the mill until you die" bit.
Next comes "Sequestered in Memphis", the single, and this song wins if for no other reason than it has the single greatest chorus The Hold Steady have ever written:
"In bar light, she looked alright/
In daylight, she looked desperate"
Finn is one of the most ridiculously gifted lyricists around, and this album really has him shining. It's not as wordy as either Almost Killed Me or Seperation Sunday, and not as cohesive as Boys and Girls in America, but it is subtly brilliant. It just keeps unfolding itself, the way that, say, Blood on the Tracks does. That record has some really banal lyrics to it ("Time is a jet plane/it moves so fast"?!), and it's not until multiple listens that they start to unravel themselves as utterly genius. This record has that feel to it. It may not jump out the way, say, "The Swish" did, but give Finn time: the lyrics will win you over.
Case in point: "One For the Cutters", one of the standout tracks on the record. At first it may seem bizarre, because basically this song is all harpsichord (a Hold Steady first?), off-beat drums, and rolling piano lines, and the thing is very mid-tempo. But it has Finn in full on lyrical mode, unraveling a murder story about a girl who hangs around with "townies". There are so many great lines in this it's hard to choose a standout or two, but I think "Dads do you know where your kids are?/Sniffing that crystal in cute little cars/getting nailed against dumpsters behind townie bars" probably sums it up pretty well.
This record also boasts the best ballad the band have done to date, "Lord, I'm Discouraged". A sad little love song (another Hold Steady first?) about not seeing a girl around anymore because she's too busy with either drugs or prostitution or both, and the yearning that goes along with wanting to see her end up okay:
"She says the sutures and bruises are none of my business/
She says that she's sick, but she won't get specific"
I mean, come on, it ends by Finn praying that the girl doesn't die, even though he knows she'll never be his. Heavy, for sure.
All I'm going to say about "Yeah Sapphire" is that it opens with the line "If I cross myself when I come would you maybe receive me?" I'm not even going to dissect that one.
The title track, "Stay Positive", is this band's thesis statement. It's everything they stand for, or have stood for, and is total riotous sing along fun. In the opening track when Finn says "our songs are sing a long songs", this is exactly what he was talking about. I can't wait to see this song live, because it is going to absolutely demolish. For my money it's probably the best track on the album. Plus, "I've got a lot of old friends that have been getting back in touch/and it's a pretty good feeling, yeah it feels pretty good" is my absolute favorite Hold Steady lyric ever. Just typing it out here gets me excited. I'm pretty sure this is his "didn't you/kidding you" line (sorry for all the Dylan references in this, but in twenty years kids when Finn is canonized, he's going to stand along with the giants as greatest songwriters of all time, without a doubt).
"Magazines" gives "Sequestered in Memphis" a good run for best chorus:
"Magazines and daddy issues/
I know you're pretty pissed, I hope you still let me kiss you"
Plus it has the always wonderful Ben Nichols (of the also always wonderful Lucero) giving this song some growly weight.
I think this record is going to be a grower for most people. Don't expect out the blocks admiration of it the way that Boys and Girls automatically won everyone over. It's definitely much more subtle than that record. It isn't quite as cohesive (although they do tie in all the original suspects, like religion and drinking, even if Holly or Charlemagne don't make appearances), and it isn't as bombastic, but I really feel like this is their record. It's everything good about the first two mashed with Boys and Girls, and the end result is pretty exciting. They manage to still sound like The Hold Steady, yet be a little more adventurous musically (thank the heavens it's not as crazy as the new My Morning Jacket, that giant turd of a record), and I really think this is Finn at his absolute peak as a songwriter.
Granted, I've only gotten through the thing about ten times so far, and knowing the way I listen to the Hold Steady, it'll probably be another hundred listens before I finally form an official opinion and rank it among the other three, but at this point I think this thing has the possibility of being my favorite record of theirs. There, I said it.