On the opening banger “Denver Haircut”, Craig Finn sings over ringing guitars “It doesn’t have to be pure, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just sorta has to be worth it”; Thrashing Thru the Passion is.
It has been five years since The Hold Steady’s last release, the forgettable Teeth Dreams, and now the band returns sounding alive, crisp and reinvigorated. They aren’t changing, and fans know what to expect at this point; revved up bar rock with torrents of lyrics and sing-along parts blending into a good time, yet lingering with you as you think/drink.
Thrashing Thru the Passion was recorded with the band’s most loaded lineup (Bobby Drake-Drums, Craig Finn-Vocals, Tad Kubler-Guitar, Galen Polivka-Bass, Steve Selvidge-Guitar, and Franz Nicolay-Keys), partnering with a producer who knows their sound, resulting in a vibrant return to form. Producer Josh Kaufman has successfully worked on Craig Finn’s recent solo releases and thoroughly increases the instrumentation for the whole outfit as huge horns, guitar pedal effects, keys and tambourines form layers of sound before colliding with Finn’s tales of lowdown love, bad decisions, shifty dealings and junkie/holy redemption.
“Denver Haircut” opens things on a muscular note as the band lock in over a tale of transition around Kluber/Selvidge’s meaty riffs and Nicolay’s keys, proving to be one of the best efforts as it pumps by at a brisk pace. The energetic “Epaulets” follows with a big band/punk mash-up feel proving that the briefness of these songs add to their power; a track such as “Traditional Village” would have likely been drawn out on past releases, here it cuts off in less than three minutes, leaving listeners wanting more.
“Entitlement Crew” is one of the outfits most well-crafted songs of recent years with a cool groove, keyboard flutters and a huge horn/drum break around Finn’s tale while “You Did Good, Kid” goes darker via blown speaker warbling riffs and civil war commemorative plate references before “Star 18” mixes up Ernest/Mariel Hemmingway, Mick Jagger and the National Zoo in rocking fashion. The guests on the album, specifically the pumping horn section of Stuart Bogie, Dave Nelson, Jordan McLean and Michael Leonhart and backing vocalist Annie Nero really elevate the overall sound.
As sung, it doesn’t have to be perfect, “T-Shirt Tux” tries to cram too many styles in a clunky manner and “The Stove and The Toaster” is a bit sluggish, but checks off lots of standard rock boxes with a great guitar solo and horn line. “Blackout Sam” feels more like a Finn solo number, but the full band effort including keyboards, tambourines, saxophone, guitar pedal effects, grows to a successful finish; it is a bit surprising that this track isn’t the closing number so it could join past big album finales like “Slapped Actresses” and “Southtown Girls”.
Fans will already know half the songs which have been periodically released before recent mini-tours, but the overall sound, production and playing combine well delivering a complete full length. On past albums The Hold Steady tried to streamline their sound, Thrashing Thru the Passion proves more is more with this band.