Back in the late '90s, a burnt-out A&R guy told me he was jealous I lived in Minneapolis because it had the "most beautiful boys and girls in America." Back then the city also counted a beautiful, jabbing, jabbering punk band called Lifter Puller among its delights. That band's frontman Craig Finn named the third album of his new band, the Hold Steady, for Minneapolis kids, so worthy of hot-fingered Kerouac reverie. In his NYC ex-pat incarnation, Finn has risen to bard-band godhead by cataloguing their charms, hurtling his snow-plowed Twin Cities scene dreams — full of imperial losers, re-lapsed Catholics, smacked-out hoodrat friends and hangover headaches — into epic Springsteenian spinouts of invincible, yet reliably evincible youth.
Having left Minneapolis's Block E for E Street back on Separation Sunday, Finn and his muscular band flirt still more overtly with jukebox heroism here. "Chips Ahoy!" rockingly outs love as an anxious racetrack bet, and the cheeky "You Can Make Him Like You" grudgingly admires those insouciant girls who simply let their "boyfriend deal with the dealer." The beer-teary "First Night" could be the "Same Auld Lang Syne" of the faded indie-rock regency, and if fellow topophiliac Sufjan Stevens can make Carl Sandburg a parlor-rock star, Finn can resurrect the river-soaked ghost of drowned poet John Berryman who "loved the Golden Gophers/But hated all the drawn-out winters." On the Berryman homage "Stuck Between Stations," Finn's empathy flows deep and wide for his hometown's most famous suicide: "He was drunk and exhausted/He was critically acclaimed and respected." Finn's banking on better, and for his sake, here's hoping Sal Paradise gets to the Promised Land.