Craig Finn, lead singer and songwriter for Brooklyn's the Hold Steady, writes about drug addiction, casual sex, and Jesus. There's lots of debauchery as well as religious iconography in most of these songs.

On "Both Crosses," Finn mixes references to Judas, crucifixes, and Catholic girls, the themes of betrayal and seduction vying for supremacy with good old-fashioned guilt and a still-active conscience. These are the conundrums that haunt Finn—who grew up in a devout Catholic home—and the shadowy world he chronicles. They are also what make him great, and why his band might be playing the best and most important rock 'n roll in America. On the Hold Steady's fourth album, the recently released Stay Positive (4 stars), Finn is at it again, spinning his conflicted tales of dissolution and redemption. This time the party animals are older—not necessarily wiser, but certainly more desperate. There are casualties this time around, characters who have lived life at the edges of the world and have fallen off. The unending parties are tinged with a forlorn agitation, a hyperactive frenzy that tries unsuccessfully to mask the yawning abyss of another pointless night at the bar or in a stranger's bed. Surprisingly, movingly, these characters struggle for meaning. "Let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger," one of them says, and it sounds like an sos broadcast to the heavens.

It's all accompanied by thunderous power chords, cascading piano lines straight out of the Bruce Springsteen catalog, and anthemic choruses that strive to make the Big Statement and, impossibly, do.

Springsteen, to whom Finn is often compared, wrote "Born to Run" as the archetypal paean to romantic love, a beat-up car, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Tags:
From Issue:
Browse All Music Reviews By:
Read These Next
Also in this Issue
A Life Formed in the Spirit Subscriber Access Only
Richard Foster's disciplined attention to spiritual formation began early on.
Current IssueNew & Noteworthy Books
New & Noteworthy Books Subscriber Access Only
Compiled by Matt Reynolds.
Current Issue
Reply All Subscriber Access Only
Responses to our April issue via letters, tweets, and Facebook posts.
TrendingISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
ISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery
(UPDATED) Egypt cancels Ramadan’s opening celebration as Copts resist revenge.
Editor's PickDo This in Remembrance
Do This in Remembrance
Participating in the “high holy day” of American civil religion is beneficial for Christians, so long as we do so thoughtfully.
Christianity Today
Debauchery and Crucifixes
hide thisSeptember September

In the Magazine

September 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.