Captivating storytelling that truly connects audiences beyond the rock genre
The Hold Steady’s latest album, Open Door Policy, is a delve into storytelling reflecting a more recent trend toward folk influences, with much of the album’s lyrics focusing on painting narrative. With the current global climate, these sounds make these sorts of albums all the more welcome, reflecting a sense of connection that is currently lacking. It truly shows that sometimes these classic American influences are still immensely relevant.
The opening track, “The Feelers,” reflects this tone well. In a classical rock ballad style, The Hold Steady’s squealing, lengthy instrumental breaks in between verses is refreshing. Gradually building in grandeur before its minimalist piano at the end, it allows for an almost reminiscent tone. Familiar and comforting, there is something admirable in bringing these narratives to a classical style. It truly reiterates the impact of this type of music, as its universality makes it all that the rock genre should encompass.
By comparison, “Family Farm” starts as a more upbeat song—with its lyricality focusing on rebellion. With the brass intertwining with the traditional rock riff, there is certain interest that makes it undeniably catchy. As the bridge devotes much of the time defeating this optimism, the song devolves into a more angry, honed version of the narrator. It is a reflection of the dynamism of the album, reiterating the pluralities of experience.
However, “Lanyards” truly pulls its weight with its balance of lyricism and instrumentals. The melancholic piano and drums in the first verse truly complements the lyrics before exploding into the chorus—a wonderful combination of all the band’s talents. The lyrics are thoroughly strong, perhaps one of the strongest on the album, reflecting the weight of someone trying to advance, despite their critical pitfalls. While it may be abrupt in its end, it truly gives a sense of hopelessness, reinforcing its narrative. It certainly is not the most upbeat track, but it has a magnitude that allows it to truly shine in the rest of the album.
There are, however, instances where The Hold Steady is more divergent between tone and instrumentals. The jazz-inspired piano chord progressions of “Me & Magdalena” underscore the more biting tone of the lyrics. While the bass whines, there is a definitive part of the song that is much more upbeat. It is this disconnect that makes meaning truly come to the fore—that there are still some hints of attraction behind this anger. Its nuances are what makes the song complex. It reflects a more modern push-and-pull of the instrumentation and the vocalist.
The latter bookend to the album, “Hanover Camera,” has an intensive description of a woman captivating the narrator. Metaphors and imagery abound. There is a consistent power to the story. Truly, much of Open Door Policy is encapsulated with the opening and closing tracks—reflecting the band’s fascination with depicting narrative. Plenty of emphasis on the journey he takes with women. Melancholy and powerful instrumentals make for a dangerous mix, making one want to experience the story again once the last song plays.