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The Price of Progress is The Hold Steady’s cinematic ride through a broken society

"The Price of Progress"

Release date: 31 March 2023
The Hold Steady - The Price of Progress cover
07 April 2023, 00:00 Written by Simon Heavisides

The Price of Progress is a great title. How many times are we told there is a price we have to pay? And almost always by people who never have to.

It’s certainly appropriate for a band such as The Hold Steady. A group led by one Craig Finn, who has, since 2003, vividly described the everyday struggle to simply survive – a reality for many in the modern world. Especially those who don’t quite fit the economically functional requirements of an often brutal society.

In some ways, this is big music and shares certain qualities with someone such as Springsteen, but as blue-collar as he allegedly was, there was usually some romance and the possibility of redemption. In Finn’s world? Not so much. Resolution here could be something there’s no chance of coming back from.

The band describe The Price of Progress as cinematic. While it’s an overused term, in this instance it’s more cinéma vérité than slick blockbuster – the camera pressed up close against the grit and the grime with life’s bit-part players promoted to starring roles.

Finn’s approach of mixing spoken word with singing pushes the drama levels up but in a naturalistic way mirroring real life, where the mundane can tip into vivid action in a millisecond.

The ten deft and devastating songs soundtracking this latest instalment flash by in a blur. It’s around the third play that things start falling into place. Case in point, “Sixers”. Starting as a potential blazing epic but then settling into a satisfying chug while Finn lays out a devastating interior screenplay forensically detailing the quiet desperation that comes with deep loneliness.

People are fond of underselling the Hold Steady by referring to them as 'America’s greatest bar band’. If they are then it’s a bar clearly entered at your own risk. And one you’ll find yourself crossing over the threshold again and again.

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