Album Revisit: The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys And Girls In America’

This is an installment of a series of blogs where I revisit some classic albums that I  love, used to love or has made an impact on pop culture whether I am familiar with it or not. You can also make suggestions on a classic album, and I may give a whirl and review it. Email me at jfroemming(at)bemidjipioneer.com or comment below.

It has been quite a while since I have done one of these, but after reading that it has been 10 (?! I feel old) years since one of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady, released its breakthrough (and my personal favorite of the band’s) album, “Boys and Girls in America,” I decided it was time to go back to the album that made up a large part of the soundtrack of my college years.

The Hold Steady is one of the more lyrical bands I enjoy, making references to Minnesota, Jack Kerouac, dive bars and blending those ideas into concept albums. The band sounds like if Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and The Replacements had a bastard child that made beautiful sounding songs with not-always so beautiful narratives. It is also a band that rose from the ashes in New York after the breakup of the classic Minneapolis band Lifter Puller. Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of Lifter Puller started anew with The Hold Steady, and got more ambitious and musical with their music and lyrics.

With “Boys and Girls in America,” I was sucked into the world of this band’s music. Part youthful anthem, part showing the underbelly of youth excess — and a song about a girl who has the psychic power to predict horse races — this album at times feels like this band picked up the lyrical mantle that inspired “On The Road,” and the work of Charles Bukowski, blending youthful optimism and seedy night life. In between the catchy hooks are lyrics that seriously could be a book outside the album. As someone who minored in creative writing in college, this was the band for me.

The album weaves through topics like isolation, love, miscommunication, tragedy and partying, with songs that re-introduce characters from previous Hold Steady albums along the way. What really got me was the lyrics and views on relationships and roles in those situations. How these characters interact in the songs was also interesting.

This album struck me at just the right time. I was late to the game (I first heard it in 2007, a year after it was released), but it came at a transitional time in my life. In college, just out of a long term relationship and living with my buddy with the whole world in front of me, this album became my soundtrack. Even among the dirt and sadness in some of the songs, the band offered hope. At the end of the day, this is a positive album.

And here I am, in yet another transitional time in my life, having just gotten out of another long-term relationship and I find myself yet again going back to this album. It offers both heartbreak and optimism. And that is a kind of mix that resonates with me. This album brings back many memories, and I often find it my go-to when I am not sure what I want to listen to. I am still amazed at how Finn created this weird, yet oddly familiar world, in his lyrics. This is an insanely catchy album when it comes to hooks and melodies. Big guitar sounds, big piano presence (thanks to Franz Nicolay) make this album a beast.

It has held up incredibly well after a decade. That is probably due to the band sticking with concepts that people can relate to, as well as sounding like the world’s greatest dive bar band.