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CD: The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams

CD: The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams

Sixth album finds Craig Finn and co. rediscovering the moments of magic

New lineup, new stories: The Hold Steady's "Teeth Dreams"

Thinking back, it was with 2010’s Heaven is Whenever that I stopped recommending my favourite band to the people who didn’t already get it. It wasn’t that it was a bad album – in capturing the world-weariness of the party band once the world moves on it was almost exactly the one that they needed to make  – but by that stage you probably knew yourself whether you were the type of hopeless barroom romantic likely to learn lessons from the one who’d seen it all in the corner. On first listen Teeth Dreams comes across as more of the same, but there are so many moments of magic here I’m half inclined to force my headphones on you anyway.

And the headphones are necessary: although The Hold Steady’s epic, communal live shows have always been the biggest part of the band’s attraction, producer Nick Raskulinecz  – no stranger, you’d think, to the arena rock sound thanks to his work with the likes of Foo Fighters  – has packed the recording full of subtle details (a hidden, melodic riff on “Spinners”, the sound of a match being struck and the smoulder of a cigarette on “Big Cigs”) almost as if to reward those who listen deeply. When combined with some of the finest character studies yet penned by Craig Finn, America’s urban poet laureate, Teeth Dreams becomes an embarrassment of riches unconvincingly disguised as big dumb rock songs. He has dropped the usual recurring characters to sketch instead a variety of dropouts and barflies “waking up with that American sadness” or choked by the anxiety symbolised in dreams about teeth; observing from somewhere above like a sage agony uncle for the jaded party girls. Heartbreak hurts, but you can dance it off.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that the band settling into a new lineup had nothing to do with it: with touring guitarist Steve Selvidge now co-opted as a full band member The Hold Steady are now enthusiastically a three-guitar band, rather than one that sounds as if it’s trying something new where the keyboards used to be. “On With the Business” and “Wait A While” could fill those arenas if that was the idea, but songs like the sprawling nine-minute album closer “Oaks” or the frantic, anxious “The Only Thing” suggest that there are subtler things at play. These aren’t just rock songs: they are complex, tightly-crafted symphonies. And you can bet that I’m going to tell you to listen.

Overleaf: take a listen to "Spinners"


It's an embarrassment of riches unconvincingly disguised as big dumb rock songs

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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