One way to test a new album is to put it in the car stereo, then see how long you listen to it on your daily commutes and regular local errand-running. Depending on traffic and tolerance, I may last a single listening at best. The new Hold Steady album lasted the better part of a week, only ejecting when I started writing this review. Stay Positive is a perfect summer rock ’n’ roll record—full of bright melodies, great guitar work, sing-along hooks, and enough depth to make you want to consult the lyric sheet. This New York-by-way-of-Minnesota combo has solidified their sound on their latest release, as they continue to mix classic rock riffs with more modern touches, all held down by Craig Finn’s unique vocals and exploration of modern-day characters. This is a windows-down, sing-along-in-your-car, let-the-drives-on-Excelsior-be-damned album all the way, the kind that doesn’t get made enough these days.
Hook Me Up
One of Australia’s biggest new bands, The Veronicas, finds its sophomore album arrives to us none too soon. The twin-sister act of Lisa and Jessica Origliasso craft another dozen bright electro-rock gems here, while also finding the space to evolve the sound from The Secret Life of…—their terrific 2006 debut. The band’s intention is clear from the dramatic strings on opener “Untouched.” From there, they present a string of bright, hard-charging, electronic-inspired rock tunes. At times, they slow up the proceedings, which works on tracks like “Take Me On The Dance Floor,” featuring a slow-burning melody, and hinting at some lesbian action. The band falls a bit on the slower tracks, such as the power-ballad-by-numbers “I Don’t Wanna Wait.” They find their footing again soon after, with the fat synth and heavy beat of “Popular,” and the slow-starting-but-eventually-rewarding “Revenge is Sweeter (Than You Ever Were).”
Perhaps it was the recent reissues of the classic, early, sloppy Replacements albums. Maybe it was a desire to be different. Possibly it was an inspiration that only Paul Westerberg understands. But whatever the inspiration, 49:00 stands out as an engaging new chapter in his long career. In fact, it has gotten more attention for its unusual recording and release than the music itself. And the music? Classic Westerberg all the way. Though this collection is, by its nature, sloppy, his great writing chops shine out throughout. The songs aren’t titled, but have the classic Westerberg vibe to them: infectious melodies, his worn voice, and a simple guitar-driven sound. In what should be expected at this point, the collection ends with an odd medley of bits from classic 1960s and 1970s rock and pop tunes. I don’t think anyone except the performer knows why, but all of 49:00 is an odd but engaging listen.
Boy, October, and War Reissues
After a quarter-century, it’s easy to forget just how fresh U2 sounded when they burst onto the scene in the early 1980s. It took time for their sound to break through in the United States, which gave them a chance to evolve, almost stealth-like, in the early years. You can hear the evolution through these reissues of their first three albums. Opening with the classic salvo of “I Will Follow,” Boy shows a band finding its footing in the music world. October suffers somewhat from a sophomore slump, but includes the killer opening track “Gloria.” 1982’s War found the band at its defiant best on classics like “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day.” Each reissue includes an extra CD that has pieces only a U2 completist would care about. However, we’re not here for the remixes, but for a look into a still-vital band at its point of furious creation—and that’s here for all to hear.