A.K.A the E Street Band play Punk Rock…no, really, if you’ve never heard The Hold Steady generally or this album in particular then just imagine the E Street Band playing Punk Rock. Track one, side one “Constructive Summer” starts out with a powerhouse, thrashing Punk rock guitar leading us in. That theme is then taken up by the piano and if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was “Professor” Roy Bittan playing it (it’s not, it’s the Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay). Then as the drummer counts it off and the rest of the band crash in singer Craig Finn hits us with
“Me and my friends are like, The drums on “Lust for Life”…”
Now I say singer but Craig Finn talks through these songs as much as he sings, on this one he sings/talks you through an idea of how we should all hang out with our friends more and do our thing in a spirit of positivity. How our younger years should have shown us that perhaps the things we were told back then were best for others and not us, before hitting us with one of my favourite lyrical couplets in a song that I’ve heard in a long, long time
“Raise a toast to saint Joe Strummer, I think he might've been our only decent teacher
Getting older makes it harder to remember, We are our only saviours”
The Hold Steady are originally from Minneapolis but are now based in Brooklyn, New York. They have released 9 albums of which “Stay Positive” is the fourth. I like all of them but “Stay Positive” is my favourite.
“Constructive Summer” disappears on a fading power chord and then “Sequestered In Memphis” comes steaming in with another Bittan-esque piano blast and if at the end of the intro Bruce Springsteen started singing you wouldn’t be at all surprised. It tells a story of boy meets girl, they head off to get it on, next thing you know boy is getting questioned by the police seemingly about the girls murder. Now I’ve known this record for a good while and it was only while looking up the lyrics to this song that I discover that although singer Craig Finn has said this album is about ageing gracefully while staying true to your youthful philosophies there is also, some fans say, a subplot concerning a murder in a smalltown of which this is the first song. I can tell you no more and further investigation shall be entered into.***
Another standout on this record is “Lord I’m Discouraged” and the reason this one does it for me is (and here’s a statement that rarely escapes my lips) it has a fantastic guitar solo ! I pretty much 100% hate guitar solo’s, there are a very few that I can be bothered with so let’s call it 99.99999 (recurring) % of guitar solo’s that I hate. If forced to name it my favourite guitar solo is on the Sex Pistols “Did You Know Wrong”. My brother knew this well as, when he went to see the Pistols in Finsbury Park, just as Steve Jones was sliding into said solo Miles phoned me back in Brum so I could hear it live. I like Neil Young’s solo on “Cinnamon Girl”, it’s one note, what’s not to like. There are a handful of others, none of which spring to mind right now. I’ve very, very rarely heard a guitar solo that adds anything to the song other than allowing a guitarist an opportunity to thrust his nether regions at the audience. But the guitar solo in “Lord I’m Discouraged” works, firstly because it does add something to the song and partly because there’s a bit of it that sounds like a part of the keyboards on Manfred Mann’s Earth Bands version of Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light”…giving this record another spurious Springsteen connection. The song itself is quite depressing and about a girl with a serious substance problem, but don’t let that put you off.
There’s nothing on this record that I don’t like (other than the copy I have plays at 45rpm which is a real pain on my downstairs record deck on which I need to move the drive belt to play 45’s). Punk Rock meets the Boss in a back alley somewhere twixt Jersey and Minneapolis (Youngstown OH seems appropriate) with a previously unknown murder mystery thrown in (maybe)…in the spirit in which I started this Albums Thing project and as the lyrics go ”We gotta stay positive”…
Constructive Summer - https://youtu.be/pnSAn6HIfzk
*** “Sequestered In Memphis”, “One For The Cutters”, maybe “Both Crosses” and “Joke About Jamaica” refer to deaths and murders, some similar in nature, but to call it a concept album about a murder is stretching things a little.