Heaven is Whenever is a guitar record. Pure classic rock. After the departure of pianist Franz Nikolay, the band focused and honed their sound. You still want to ride the Springsteen comparison? How about actually listening. Gone are the slick bridges, and I’ll miss them, but I don’t miss them on this album. The musical progression feels natural. And yea, there’s some piano on the record, but it’s no longer a featured element.
Immediately, Heaven gets off to an odd start with the bluesy “The Sweet Part of the City.” It’s slower and plodding, but the rock quickly commences on “Soft in the Center” and “The Weekenders,” the latter of which masters the quiet/loud/quiet formula. “Hurricane J” and “Our Whole Lives” are two fist pumpers that demand convertible sing-a-longs.
Let’s not get carried away though. The reason The Hold Steady have become hipsters’ favorite band are the stories and poetry of Craig Finn, who everyone in Brooklyn wishes they could be. His meter and rhyme and detail and delivery are unparalleled in rock lyrics. There are call backs to characters and older songs. There are great lines.
“She said the theme of this party is the Industrial Age/You came in dressed like a train wreck.”
“You can’t tell people what they want to hear if you also want to tell the truth”
Religion has always been present in The Hold Steady’s music. Read however much into it you want. Heaven only furthers the intrigue. Finn’s at the pulpit, preaching to his choir. But as much as religion seems to be a central theme, the tales of townies and late night parties and nostalgia personalizes the songs on a different level.
It’s hard to question and second guess a band that seems so sure of their vision. I would have re-ordered the tracks. But there’s got to be a reason that the best moment happens in the middle. The last minute and a half of “We Can Get Together.” It’s the kind of cinematic moment that needs to be heard at full volume, in the dark, laying on your bedroom floor with someone who loves music as much as you do. Just like the line says:
“Heaven is whenever/we can get together/Sit down on your floor/and listen to your records”
Yea, I guess that line is pretty important to the record. It’s about that moment. Freeze time and savor. Even if you don’t want to kill yourself overanalyzing the prose, the melodies and arrangements are hard to deny. Save yourself.