The Hold Steady
Thrashing Thru The Passion
Buy Here | Listen Below
Everything’s here. Craig Finn really Craig Finns it up—not in the more subdued, melodic style of his recent solo masterpiece I Need a New War, but in the full-throttle version that fans of The Hold Steady should know well by now. Our instrumentalists, especially drummer Bobby Drake, keep things loose as they ratchet the tempo up and down. There’s lots of noise, there’s lots of fast playing, there are lots, and lots, of lyrics. It’s The Hold Steady!
The group’s albums have always been defined by excess. So many notes! So many words! So much noise! There’s always the feeling of being able to plumb the depths of this discography and discover new things, both instrumentally and lyrically, each time. There are hidden revelations everywhere.
Parts of Thrashing Thru The Passion do in fact feel revelatory (the singalong coda of “Entitlement Crew,” the entirety of “Epaulets,” the weird, high-tempo swing of the introduction to “T-Shirt Tux,”). But parts of it feels like a patchwork of things we know The Hold Steady can do, rather than a complete work. The album itself doesn’t have much of an identity that crosses the songs, an issue that actually goes one level deeper to the songs themselves.
Nearly every tune on Thrashing Thru The Passion involves some turn that a reasonable person would not have seen coming. Two-thirds of the way through, “T-Shirt Tux” slows down for no apparent reason. “The Stove & the Toaster” ends its verses with magnificent build-ups that have to be abandoned without climax in order to transition to a non sequitur chorus. The breakdown in “Traditional Village” stops the song in its tracks.
While this structural experimentation could be fun, in very few instances does it feel necessary or even authentic. Instead of a natural evolution of the song’s instrumental narrative, we get another song by The Hold Steady spliced inside.
The most successful songs on the record are able to use this tomfoolery toward some identifiable purpose: “Confusion in the Marketplace” starts with a rigid, distorted riff and organically evolves to a blissful, upbeat chorus. When it makes a hard cut back to the distorted riff, you notice how far the song has evolved over the past minute or so. It’s fun. This sort of move, like the puzzling and delightful organ solo on Boys and Girls in America’s “Same Kooks,” is unexpected but still carries us forward. The trouble with Thrashing Thru The Passion, is that it’s so full of these turns that it’s hard for them all to be meaningful.
This doesn’t mean that the record lacks merit. Parts of it do as excellent of a job combining joy and frustration as the rest of the band’s discography. “Denver Haircut” is a fantastic opener that reminds you unironically that you’ve arrived at the feet of a record by The Hold Steady. “Blackout Sam” is a beautiful slower song, a spiritual cousin to I Need A New War’s “Bathtub in the Kitchen.” “Epaulets” is ultra-busy and every note is exuberant. Lyrically, of our characters, their parties and their desperation, the true meat and potatoes of the band’s output, is all here. You have to look a little harder than usual, but it’s here.
Notable Tracks: "Confusion in the Marketplace" | “Entitlement Crew” | "Epaulets"