Stay Positive is a worthy sequel to Boys and Girls in America. Lyrically it has Craig Finn’s usual themes, but it’s less dense than before, and it also feels like a love letter to rock music; they’re referencing The Clash and Hüsker Dü in the opening ‘Constructive Summer’, while Led Zeppelin are referenced on ‘Joke About Jamaica’.
Musically, The Hold Stead are exploring similar territory to Boys and Girls in America – again there’s a big piano ballad at track 5, this time with an epic guitar solo (‘Lord I’m Discouraged’), and again there’s a great song at the end with the propulsive ‘Slapped Actress’. The weaker tracks are the most sonically adventurous – ‘One For The Cutters’ rides Franz Nicolay’s harpsichord, while ‘Navy Sheets’ is built around a synth riff, but neither is particularly interesting beyond the lyrics. The bonus track ‘Two Handed Handshake’ is also noteworthy.
The Hold Steady have lost even more of their edge on Stay Positive, but the material here is mostly great. It’s a weak nine, but I love it too much to give it a lower rating.