The Hold Steady have been crafting their fan base for a number of years now, attracting more and more to their brand of post indie rock anthems with each new release. It is no surprise that with album five, Heaven Is Whenever, there was an air of expectation. Having recently returned to a four piece after the departure of their keyboardist Franz Nicolay, some were hoping for a return to their first record Almost Killed Me. Instead the band have continued the same path that has warranted previous success.
There’s a strong feeling of Americana in the songs that at times sit somewhere between arena rock (say like Kings Of Leon) and adult contemporary (say Counting Crows). The track ‘The Weekenders’ sits perfectly in between with it’s rambling verses building to big sing along chorus. Lyrically it’s a repeat formula for Craig Finn, dropping musical references and talking about love the same way he did as a teenager. However, here’s where it gets sad. He’s no longer a teenager and it loses it’s relevance and meaning when sung by a thirty year old guy.
There are moments where the album picks up the pace; the track ‘Our Whole Lives’ displays an energy that seems to be lacking throughout most of the record. This album seems to just travel long on cruise control. When it does vary with the use of keys, horns or strings it does so in such a non-offensive manner that it almost seems a waste using them. It feels like the creative juices weren’t flowing and the songs were forced out for the sake of making an album. And while I have no doubt the songs will carry over in a live venue, on disc they sound hollow.