Album Preview: Hold Steady, "Boys and Girls In America"

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Damn you, Hold Steady! How can any band be this good? Boys and Girls In America is the third straight chain-smoker from everybody's favorite Brooklyn bar band. Has anybody made three albums this great in three consecutive years lately? The Replacements never did it. I guess Hüsker Dü did it, '83-'85, and Creedence, '68-'70 — but that's the level the Hold Steady has already achieved.

Craig Finn motormouths his stories of doomed kids looking for love and drugs and fun ("He was Tennyson in denim and sheepskin / He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin"), while the band steals riffs from Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, and .38 Special. Their 2004 debut, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, is probably my most-played album of the decade so far. On 2005's Separation Sunday, they added a bunch of mock-Springsteen piano flourishes, but apparently not as mock as we all thought, because they've gotten even Bossier, with a title from a Kerouac quote ("Boys and girls in American have such a sad time together"). If there's an instant anthem a la "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," "Barfruit Blues," or "Killer Parties," it's "Chillout Tent," a sequel to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " with two young lovers meeting at the rock festival's medical emergency area after too many mushrooms. Definitely a punk rock romance for our time, and a song only the Hold Steady could write.

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