What we've got here is a rock band fronted by a pudgy, bespectacled singer with a receding hairline. Therefore, according to the teachings of the seer Diamond Dave Roth (e.g., "rock critics only like Elvis Costello because rock critics look like Elvis Costello"), it would seem that the Hold Steady is your archetypal critic's darling. One caveat, though: These guys sound more like vintage Van Halen than any sort of chamber pop new wave -- except for that singer, but he doesn't sound any more like Elvis Costello than he does Sammy Hagar. It's not like Craig Finn sings, really. It's more like he declaims in a rhythmic fashion. On Separation Sunday, his strident oration holds dominion over the band's too-rockin'-to-be-tongue-in-cheek riffs, and the result is an album-length epic poem in the style of a classic rock jukebox stocked with Thin Lizzy, Journey and Springsteen. The songs all seem to bleed together in a half-remembered haze from the first listen, with repeated phrases and situations appearing déjà-vu-style on multiple tracks (the term "hoodrat" appears upwards of 13 times throughout the disc). There are supporting characters like Charlemagne, the sweatpants-clad drug dealer, and a load of Catholic imagery centered around a character named Holly, short for "Hallelujah." Finn's narrator is as unreliable and talkative as some speedfreak or drunk who's attached himself to you at a random party, but since his stories are all so thrillingly embarrassing and way fucked up, you can't help but listen as he details each time he gets plastered, plowed, punctured and probed. So what we've got here, basically, is bar-rock boiled down to its narrative essence -- today's classic rock, today. What we've also got here is a rave review, so it looks like Diamond Dave was right.
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