The Hold Steady – Almost Killed Me

Almost Killed Me (2004)

B+

1. Positive Jam 2. The Swish 3. Barfruit Blues 4. Most People Are DJs 5. Certain Songs 6. Knuckles 7. Hostile, Mass. 8. Sketchy Metal 9. Sweet Payne 10. Killer Parties

 

See, this is why I love Craig Finn. One of the first things he says on this album is “The 80s almost killed me/Let’s not recall them all that fondly.” Well, shit, dude, I can get behind that. The 80s were just the stupidest era in the history of mankind. I’m so glad I wasn’t born until the glorious world of the 90s, when the skies were blue, the grass was green, and presidents tended to prefer blowjobs to jellybeans. What did 80s pop culture give us that doesn’t deserve to be wiped forever from the annals of history? Pac-Man? Phoebe Cates topless in Fast Times At Ridgemont High? Anything else? No. How anyone can look back fondly on that decade is beyond me. Actually, I do know how: coke. Lots and lots of coke. I’ve never done it, but I’m assuming if you do enough of it, you lose your ability to maintain anything resembling good taste in music or fashion. Under such an influence, maybe I’d listen to Wham! too.

Nah, I’m just pushing your buttons, people who remember the 80s (ie old people). I know what it’s all about. You only recall the 80s fondly because you recall your youth fondly, right? Just like how, from time to time, I still watch *NSYNC videos on Youtube and, under the right circumstances, dig the shit out of them because they fill me with joy and nostalgia for more innocent time in my life. I’m sure in ten years there will be a 90s teen pop revival and belly shirts will become super popular again, just like they were when I was in like 4th grade and Britney’s midriff was forcing every school principal in America was forced to outlaw them. Man, those were the days.

Craig Finn may not have been wild about the 80s (though I’d love to see him as a talking head on VH1’s upcoming series I Love The 80s Vol. 29: You’d Really Think We’d Have Run Out Of 80s Shit To Talk About By Now, But People Keep Watching So Fuck It), but he’s still all about youthful nostalgia. When you think about it, it’s kind of weird to hear a guy in his 30s (now, in 2012, in his 40s) reverently referencing “the Kids” in his lyrics like Marxists reference “the People” or “the Revolution.” Especially when he dates himself by about 30 years in “Certain Songs” when he sings, “From the Meatloaf to the Billy Joel/Certain songs get so scratched into our souls.” Yeah, sure, the kids are really digging Bat Out Of Hell these days, Craig. But he also sings about “scenes” a lot, which I find pretty perceptive for an old fart. In the internet age, pop culture, and especially music, has become hyper-fragmented. You’d think that in our increasingly corporatized world, where our conglomerated overlords are increasingly unfettered in their ability to shove their shit down our throats, the opposite would be the case. But that’s the free internet for you. It’s easier than ever to both find the stuff you care about and ignore the stuff you don’t. Because of this, I don’t think we’ll ever see another pop star even approach the ubiquity of the Beatles or Michael Jackson. Instead, we’ll see people, as we do today, become increasingly entrenched in splinter genres like freak folk, chillwave, bauhaus, ballgaze, and glo-fi (I only made one of those up!) and the fashion and trends—the scenes—that go with them. So when Craig says, “I always dream about a unified scene,” maybe he’s addressing the “sniffling indie kids” he brings up in “Positive Jam,” all of them “wired and well-connected,” imploring them to cast off their scenes and come together. To allow rock music to be a uniquely powerful force that unites us like it was back in the glory days of the 60s and 70s (well, in an idealized world, anyway) rather than let it be something that defines us against each other. As the Hold Steady’s audience has grown, this has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s even a group of hardcore fans that call themselves the Unified Scene. They have matching numbered t-shirts and everything! So cool!

Good god, what the hell have I been going on about? What am I, a Picthfork writer now? Rambling on about half-baked bullshit theories about indie culture instead of actually reviewing music? Well, enough of that, I say. We’re here to talk about Almost Killed Me, which is a pretty cool debut record by the Hold Steady. In comparison to the band’s later records, it’s got a grimier guitar tone, a heavier emphasis on Galen Polivka’s basslines, and, because Franz wasn’t in the band yet, way less keyboards. There’s piano on “Certain Songs” and a silly synth line on “Knuckles” but I think that’s it for keys. These factors bring the album closer to punk than arena rock in some places, which is unusual for the Hold Steady. There are definitely a few nods to arena rock, like the slammin’, oversized riffs of “The Swish” or the fact that Tad plays a really long solo at the end of “Most People Are DJs.” But on other songs, he’s just plugging away at power chords, leaving a few of the songs a bit compositionally undeveloped. So like the only particularly distinguishing feature of “Hostile, Mass.” is that is has a sax solo, and the only one in “Sweet Payne” is that Craig randomly mentions Bay City, Michigan, where I once saw some fireworks. But even if I can’t remember much about them when they’re over, I still like them. I can remember most of these songs, though. And they’re good. Like “Barfruit Blues,” which ROCKS! And the emotionally-toned droning epic “Killer Parties,” which RULES! This album is good, but they’d make better ones.

Man, was that the most half-assed music review paragraph I’ve ever written or what? No, actually, this is:

The.

Now to distract you from my incompetence, here is today’s official Jeremy Etc. Trivia Question (sponsored by MetLife):

When you’re having sex with a girl and you hear this noise: “pfffbbt.” What caused it?

A)   Gentital on gential friction, like physics or some shit

B)   She farted

C)   You farted

D)   You both farted

E)   She queefed

F)    It was the cat vomiting under the bed

G)   It’s the sound of her soul escaping through her vagina and being dragged down to hell for being such an immoral trollop (Rick Santorum only)

Text your answers to 1-800-BUTTFACE! The winner gets the satisfaction of knowing that they provided me with valuable knowledge that I didn’t have before.

Geez, I’m sorry for being so weird and Prindle-like today. I’m not even drunk. I just have a cold. It’s putting me in a loopy state of mind I guess. Let me finish by something that I plan to do in all my Hold Steady reviews: quote a few of my favorite lines on the album. Craig Finn writes a lot of really memorable and/or hilarious lyrics! They deserve to be reprinted, god dammit!

“She said, ‘It’s good to see you back in a bar band, baby’/I said, ‘It’s great to see you still in the bars.’”

“Holly can’t speak, she don’t feel all that sweet/About the places she sometimes has to go to get some sleep/She said, ‘I’m sorry, people think I’m pretty’/These clever kids are killing me.”

“They’re jamming jetskis into the jetty now/With some guy who looks like Rocco Siffredi/And I’ve heard he’s been dead once already.”

“Everyone’s a critic and most people are DJs.”

“I’ve been trying to get people to call me Freddy Knuckes/But people keep calling me Right Said Fred.”

“If she says we partied, then I’m pretty sure we partied/I really don’t remember/I remember we departed from our bodies.”

“We got so high some nights Michigan looked just like a mitten.”

This one time when I was in Michigan, I ate too much ravioli and Michigan looked just like a toilet bowl.



One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    You’ve thrown up a lot in Michigan.


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