With their mix of grinding power chords, poppy background vocals, and penchant for blue-collar narratives, the Hold Steady teeter between brainy songwriting and brash rock. Lead singer Craig Finn isn’t one to hide his influences: In “Hot Soft Light” and “Southtown Girls,” fans of Thin Lizzy will hear echoes of such classics as “Jailbreak” and “The Boys are Back in Town,” and the crunchy melodies of Dream Police-era Cheap Trick permeate many of the album tracks. Cool organ, Clavinet, and piano add sonic intrigue to the double-tracked guitar riffs—which blare with the subtlety of an ambulance tearing toward a wreck on the Interstate—but except for the acoustic “Citrus,” it’s a vicious six-string attack that forms the sonic backbone of Boys and Girls in America.
Lyrically, Finn is preoccupied with dealers, druggies, jaded scensters, and the world of pain they inhabit, but there’s a boozy after-hours elegance to ballads like “First Night” that draws you to the dark characters he describes so eloquently. Lines like Hearing Holly’s not invincible/In fact, she’s in the hospital/Not far from that bar where we met on that first night reveal an unusual attention to songcraft, and it’s this depth of lyrical detail that makes Finn and the Hold Steady so appealing.