Heaven is Whenever

Heaven Is Whenever begins with a tinny slide guitar which suggests that the titular "whenever" is in the distant past. And, sure enough, frontman -- and Twin Cities native -- Craig Finn begins singing immediately about Minneapolis' Hennepin Avenue. Although The Hold Steady was formed and has always been based in New York City, Finn still feels like his former stomping grounds is his spiritual home.

But just because the album begins with an old-timey sound, don't think that this album is any great departure for the band. And that's a good thing. Sure, their keyboard player quit since their previous one (2008's Stay Positive). But songs like "Soft in the Center" and "Hurricane J" keep the chugging guitars blaring and keep mining the same troubadour-of-the-middle-class territory as Springsteen a generation ago.

Although many of The Hold Steady's songs are snapshots -- sometimes fading, sometimes fresh -- of alienated youth in various states of inebriation, Finn's stance as a somewhat out-of-sync observer in his songs makes for a fascinating listen. For the characters populating The Hold Steady's songs, nearly everything is judged by the yardstick of rock 'n' roll culture. Life is compared to or commented on by the music of bands like Cheap Trick, The Jim Carroll Band, Husker Du, and Youth of Today. But despite name-dropping or referring to all of these artists, the actual music is more like what might've resulted if Springsteen and Elvis Costello were members of The Replacements.

The album's title derives from the song "We Can Get Together," a fine example of the group's songcraft. "Heaven," sings Finn in his distinctive loping vocal style, "is whenever we can get together, sit down on your floor and listen to your records." It's another paen to Finn's roots in Minneapolis but it also functions as an anthem for listeners.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director