Returning with another slab of arena-ready rock come Brooklyn’s The Hold Steady. Craig Finn still expounds bittersweet life lessons over Tad Kubler’s two-fisted guitar riffs, mixing up exhilarating anthems with get-your-lighter-ready balladeering.
Heaven is Whenever, though, lacks a certain je ne sais quoi due to the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, known for his killer ‘tache and deftly blending harpsichord and synth into the meat-and-potato rock. Sans Nicolay, we see The Hold Steady shifting gears back toward their early Franz-less work; Soft in the Centre sounds like a Separation Sunday outtake, and The Smidge – where Koob exudes shades of Crüe – gives The Swish a challenge as the band’s most visceral track.
While such rockers – along with the poppier Hurricane J – come through clear, some of the slower tracks want for Nicolay’s subtleties. Heaven, then, bears some signs of growing pains, but not enough to keep the bards of bar rock from crafting a fine fifth LP. [Jason Morton]