There are those bands that you wonder if they weren’t meant for different eras. For example, I always felt Bruce Springsteen’s peak was about 10 to 15 years later then he should have been. Nick Drake might have fit better right now; in the quiet is the new loud genre. I listen to The Hold Steady and think if Boys and Girls in American or Stay Positive would have come out in 92 or 93 they would have been wildly popular and Craig Finn and the boy would be filthy rich…the draw back would be having to see them on an arena tours with the Goo Goo Dolls and Collective Soul.
Stay Positive is the perfect follow up to what must have been an impossible album to follow, Boys and Girls in America. The Hold Steady is not trying to equal BGiA, they are just subtly saying, “Hey, we’re here to stay”. The first time I really listened to Stay Positive was at work; in my cubical, with my white shirt and tie; I was feeling the forlornness that accompanies mediocrity and the sadness one feels when they realize their place in life. Something about Franz Nicolay pounding out chords on a piano while Craig Finn weaved words around heart breaking stories, lifted my heart to a new sphere.
If you're looking for The Boss and the E Street gang they are here... Iggy Pop, check (Me and my friends are like the drums on “Lust for Life” We pound it out on floor toms Our psalms are sing-along songs). Straight edgers, yep its there too (7 Seconds). Led Zeppelin, um... yeah! (Joke about Jamaica). There are not many scene bands that Craig Finn doesn't reference or just name drop on this record.
Stay Positive also takes some progressive steps for the band, using instruments like; harpsichords, mandolins, even theremin. They exploring different sounds however song structures are true to the likes of Bob Mould.
However, with all the pop cultural references and band comparisons there is still a place for Stay Positive at the top of The Hold Steady's progression. Sure there are a couple of songs that might have been better left in the studio but as Craig told the Guardian, “I think it’s more of a challenge for us to make a more consistent, less rambling rock record. Boys and Girls was a step towards that, and Stay Positive is more fully realised,” he goes on to say that they have satisfied fans over the years by satisfying themself.
Perhaps the concluding words of the title track sum up this album... cause its one thing to start it with a positive jam and its another thing to see it all through. Staying Positive is seeing it all through!