The Hold Steady, under the leadership of Craig Finn, have slowly and surely become one of the most reliably entertaining bands in the world. Whether you most enjoy them on their varied but never listless records, or their riotous live performances (or both), there’s plenty in Open Door Policy for you to treasure.
If you’ve never heard them before, this is as good a place as any to start: It’s always a good measure of a record to see how well it would express the artistry of the band if it was a listener’s first experience of them, and Open Door Policy is pretty much the best primer for The Hold Steady’s wonderful sound since their 2006 masterpiece Boys and Girls in America. That sound – at once instantly recognisable and devilishly malleable – is a boozy combination of Bruce Springsteen’s earnest grittiness, The Replacements’ reckless charm, The Rolling Stones’ sexy swagger and Thin Lizzy’s bright-eyed optimism. Simply put, The Hold Steady borrowed the best bits of the best rock bands of yore, and refashioned those bits into something fresh and vital.
On Open Door Policy, you get barrelling tear-in-your-beer heartland rock in opener “The Feelers” and “Lanyards”. Both are superb demonstrations of the key successes of The Hold Steady’s sound – Finn’s voice foremost amongst them. He sounds fantastic on “Family Farm” too, but then so does Tad Kubler’s ripping guitar, Bobby Drake’s pummelling drums and Galen Polivka’s muscular bass guitar.
“Spices” hints at esoteric Eastern-flavoured influences before twisting the serpentine guitar line into something you’d expect from prime-era Pixies. There’s a joyous, celebratory vibe to mid-record highlight “Unpleasant Breakfast”, which runs classic '70s influences through mid-90s alt-rock and ends up with something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern retro teen movie. Or an Eels record, for that matter.
“Heavy Covenant” and “Riptown” round out the key highlights of the record, despite ploughing two completely different furrows. The former is earnest, sincere and resolute, while the latter is looser, sloppier and heart-on-sleeve emotional. Neither are new avenues for The Hold Steady to be taking you down, but both tracks are sublime regardless.
This is a lovely, lovely piece of work from a band that are still to produce a dud. Like the aforementioned Eels, The Hold Steady are a band built around classic influences, producing some of their finest work in their career at a time when some folks might have lost sight of their vitality. The Hold Steady are a warm port in a cold storm, and Open Door Policy is sweet relief from this shocker of a year. Best enjoyed loud and often.