“NME say we’re old,” said Hold Steady frontdude Craig Finn from a London stage recently. “But we’re just old school.” What japes! Yet, on the evidence of the reissued New York band’s back catalogue – 2004’s ‘Almost Killed Me’ and the following year’s ‘Separation Sunday’ – the thirtysomething Brooklyn boy does have a point.
See, if the release of this year’s ‘Boys And Girls In America’ suggested The Hold Steady were the latest chink in the chain that connects Bruce Springsteen to The Replacements, then the prequels to this year’s 8/10-scoring album push the point even further. And the point is? Well, plainly and simply, that rock’n’roll – whatever treatment and emperor’s new clothes it comes clad in during the 50-odd years it’s existed as a concept – has never sounded better than when played by big-hearted folks with even bigger-sounding guitars (see Bill Haley, The Beatles, The Clash, Oasis, yadda, yadda, yadda).
Of the two, ‘Separation Sunday’ nudges past the finishing line first, largely due to magnificent closer ‘How A Resurrection Really Feels’ with Finn’s half-spoken, half-sung vocals. But, it was a trick used on his band’s debut too – witness the witty and
wry ‘Knuckles’ – and it’s an effect that comes across something like a gruffer-voiced Patti Smith reading out observations on life and love while AC/DC soundcheck in the background. Always funny, often touching, sometimes wise, The Hold Steady embody why rock’n’roll will never end up in a nursing home, however many years pass. Old school? Too cool for school, more like.