When they kiss they spit white noise

faked by Thursday, October 5th, 2006

If you’d told me earlier this year that my early favorite song from the new Hold Steady album, Boys and Girls in America, would be a piano ballad, I would have called you crazy. If you’d told me ten years ago, I would have nodded, pretended I knew exactly what you were talking about, and gone back my dorm room and played my two-year-old Bush cassette. You would have waged an epic mental struggle over whether and with what degree of savagery to mock me, but then you would have recalled that when I showed up at college my CD collection was largely dominated by George Strait albums, and that I’d argued with more zeal than was strictly necessary that “The Chair” was one of the greatest songs ever written. Bush, you would have thought to yourself, was progress, however slight. If you’d told me twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have paid a bit of attention because I would have been too busy explaining the minutiae of Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, with a particular emphasis on how much trouble I had solving the Flood Control Damn #3 puzzle; I would probably have said “Hello, Sailor!” in the hopes that someone, somewhere in Mississippi would understand that bit of Infocomese inside jokery, and whatever sympathy or, let’s be honest, pity, you might have felt for me would have evaporated as it became apparent that yes, that smell was me. If you’d told me 60,000 years ago in my previous incarnation as a Paleolithic caveman, I would have beaten you to death with a large flat rock. Nothing personal.

Anyway, yeah, the title of this post is from “First Night,” one of the standout tracks on the new Hold Steady record—and one that bids farewell to the un/holy trinity of Charlemagne, Gideon, and Holly, characters who weave drunkenly through the previous two albums, by looking back to their first meeting, when Holly was “golden with barlight and beer.” It’s a song that shows off all the new moves the boys have learned for this album: Craig Finn sings instead of shouts, the piano they rescued from a dumpster on E Street fills the air with smoke, and Elizabeth Elmore’s backing vocals are a spoonful of sugar that doesn’t help the medicine go down so much as it helps keep down the pills dissolving in your otherwise empty stomach. The general direction seems to be towards integrating Finn’s vocals with the band more than on past releases; it’s an interesting idea that pays off here and on some of the other quieter songs. Elsewhere, though, Finn’s lyrics get lost in an occasionally sludgy mix—and since the lyrics are at least half the reason we’re here, that’s probably the album’s biggest weakness. True, the mix sounds better through headphones than in the car, but come on: this album isn’t just about classic rock, it is classic rock. It should really sound best bleeding through the windows of a car making slow laps around a gas station. Hell, maybe it does. I haven’t actually tried that yet. Anyone wants to try it out, you let me know.

Previously:
Holding Steady by the Banks of the Mississippi
MacKenzie Phillips Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; or, My 2005 Top Five

5 Responses to “When they kiss they spit white noise”

  1. e says:

    I am at the bottletree in birmingham, alabama. the hold steady come on in 10 minutes.

    she was a pretty good dancer/
    but she wasnt a very good christian.

  2. gorjus says:

    I’m still not sold on the Hold Steady, and the mix is one of the worst I’ve heard on a “rock” record since, well, any Marah album.

    But “Chillout Tent”: people: Jaysus made me a copy of the record, and were it nothing but dry recitations of the Constitution plus this song this album would still be one of the best of the year. An extraordinary tale of romance at what I just KNOW is a Lollapalooza, I feel it in my bones, 1995 y’all, and “he was Tennyson in denim and sheepskin / He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin” is the new “Romeo in black jeans.”

    I just love everything about it: how perfect the details are, the oranges and cigarettes, how they “kicked it,” how they never saw each other again, the perfect dueling vocals. Wonderful.

  3. brd says:

    I can picture this. In ten years we will pull you up on our screens embedded in every wall of the house. Your TVlog will have it’s setting in front of a bayou (what is a bayou?) Pipe in hand you will tell us, with tongue running along the inner side of your cheek, about how you used like Mountain Goats, but that was in the past. However You still like Springsteen and that will never, never, never change.

  4. JBC says:

    hey, have you heard their first album? the hold steady almost killed me? because, it’s a motherf*cker.

    i just got back from making laps around the bp with the windows rolled down, scaring small children and domesticated animals.

  5. I have! I love it! “Most People are DJs” is a fave.