Archive for May 11th, 2010

Heaven Is Whenever: A Review

Craig Finn, lead singer and front man for The Hold Steady, is not a fan of irony. He likes to sing songs with clear, straightforward* narratives about drinking and partying, usually in the Midwest. On the latest Hold Steady album, Heaven Is Whenever (released last week), though, Finn is playing the role of relaxed elder statesman. He’s still dealing with mundane predicaments and inscrutable women, but this record has a more laid-back feel than Stay Positive, Boys and Girls in America, or Separation Sunday. When news came out that the band’s keyboardist, Franz Nicolay, was leaving the band for this album, Finn made some noise by saying it would be “less anthemic” as a result.

*Well, not always straightforward. It’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what’s going on in his songs, but that’s never because he’s being obtuse, but because his songs and albums are so dense with characters and events that keeping track of them all can be slightly confusing.

In actuality, Heaven Is Whenever occupies a weird middle ground between evolution and fidelity: It doesn’t sound that much different from previous Hold Steady albums, but it does sound less anthemic than most. It’s not the kind of polarizing departure that might alienate some fans, but it doesn’t have the same immediate pull that The Hold Steady’s last two albums did. Continue reading

Humble Pie

Did I miss something? Has there been a change that has yet to reflect in how we define the word “humble”? It still means to be “modest” or “having a feeling of insignificance,” right? Then how come the acceptance speech for every award has to include some variation of the word “humble”?

It’s not like “humble” is an article like “the” or a conjunction like “and” or a preposition like “of”—you know, the words that find their way into everyday sentences because it would be impossible to speak without them. “Humble” is not grammatically essential. It is common but not ubiquitous in our parlance. It is only used in one cliché—when someone emerges from “humble beginnings.” So why does “humble” appear in award acceptance speeches about as often as the word “I”?

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