Separation Sunday notches up everything from the excellent start of Almost Killed Me; The Hold Steady’s arrangements are more muscular and detailed, with Franz Nicolay as a full-time member on keyboards, while Craig Finn’s lyrics tell fragments of inter-weaved narratives. Thematically dense, Separation Sunday revolves around four characters: the narrator Craig, the pimp Charlemagne, the skinhead Gideon, and Holly/Hallelujah, who veers between faith, addiction, and prostitution.
While a lot of the appeal of Separation Sunday comes from Craig Finn’s intertwining stories, there’s plenty of musical punch here too. The most immediate track here is perhaps ‘Your Little Hoodrat Friend’, with its rhythmic guitar fills and powerful organ backdrops. As Finn is largely talk singing, Kubler is free to play almost anything, and the riff that fuels ‘Stevie Nix’ is both brutal and intricate. The record climaxes with the double punch of the short mournful ‘Crucifixion Cruise’ and the celebratory ‘How A Resurrection Really Feels’, which bounces along with an optimistic horn line.
Separation Sunday is fascinating; all the literary and classic rock allusions make it fodder for aging music critics, but it’s accessible all the same, although you might want to start with the more conventional next record.