So much of what I listen to lately is post-rock that when I return to my rock and roll roots, I’m often underwhelmed by the complexity or the ambitions of the music I’m listening to. Classic rock is what made me fall in love with music as slowly diving into my father’s very deep library of rock and roll LP’s allowed me to discover the roots of modern music. However (with some notable exceptions), most of what I listen to these days recognizes that rock’s creative hey-days are far behind us and that it’s now time to chart new waters, whether this be ambient or electronica or some marvelous genre fusion. I’ve only listened to two real rock albums for this blog (The Who’s Who’s Next and The Rolling Stones Exile on Main St.) and those are defining albums of the rock age. I just finished listening to my first modern rock album for the blog, The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America, and while it did suffer from some more derivative inspirations, the sheer energy of the production and the unashamed way that the band wears its influences on its sleeves led this to still be an incredibly fun album that has some great moments on it but is weighed down by a slightly uneven production.

I find it sort of difficult to say where exactly The Hold Steady fit within the American rock spectrum. There are obvious influences of the post-punk bands of the late 90’s and early 2000’s like The Dismemberment Plan. I don’t think I’m imagining a healthy influence of power-pop inspirations either. At the same time, the band isn’t afraid to throw in some of the piano driven hard rock of bands like The Who (their later stuff). It’s a strange amalgamation of different rock areas, but it works spectacularly well. When the band is channeling all three influences, their power to rock and get your head bopping is flawless. The seams only really begin to come apart when the band wants to explore any of its influences separate from the other two, as you are faced with the fact that these are sounds you know and have heard a million times before. One area where the band is not remotely derivative though is its deliciously hedonistic lyrics which took rock and roll’s axiom of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as its primary message but through authentic and genuine lenses that you don’t see enough any more.

The album’s biggest problem however is that when its tracks work, they’re exceptional and are some serious highlights of indie rock’s continued ability to lay down rock anthems, but when they don’t work, they really just fail to move you. The highlight of the album is “Chillout Tent”, a tale of young lust between two people that meet in the titular chillout tent at a concert after they ingested some bad drugs. It’s catchy, hook-driven pop rock brilliance. The same thing could be said about “Party Pit” which is another song about love and drugs as one man moves on while his female love is stuck partying. Once again, you have “Chips Ahoy” which is an ode to excess after coming into unexpected money. The mix of power-pop/post grunge/ and classic rock makes for a seamless and extremely enjoyable kick your ass rock scenario. However, on tracks like “Same Kooks” too much of the song is spent on more pure punk before any of the piano or guitar solos begin to arrive. The same problem occurs with “Citrus” which is too much of an attempt at weaker soft-rock.

If you’re a fan of any of the genres I mentioned whether it be late 90’s post-punk/post-grunge, Cheap Trick-esque power pop, or some of the more progressive classic rock, then this album deserves a listen. It has flaws that keep it from true greatness which is a shame because there are songs on this that are memorable modern rock anthems. “Chillout Tent” is quickly becoming a fast favorite. I just wish the band had stuck more to its most unique capability which is its combination of so many different genres. When it tries to do those things by themselves, the magic is gone. Regardless of its flaws, this is simply a fun and rocking ride into the world of modern indie rock sensibilities.

Final Score: B+

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