Sound — 6
With the departure of keyboardist and co-songwriter Franz Nicolay, The Hold Steady felt a new sound with more space would be a good path to take on their new album: Heaven is Whenever. Unfortunately, they ended up with an overproduced sound that muddles up almost the entire album. With tracks like We Can Get Together and A Slight Discomfort, the overuse of background vocals and unnecessary sounds added in makes it difficult to enjoy the song itself (and they are both great songs live). Even though some tracks are a bit overproduced, one cannot love the raw sounds on Rock Problems and Hurricane J which simply feature guitars, keyboards, drums, and bass: the core of The Hold Steady. Overall, the sound could be better and frankly the songs work better live.
Lyrics — 8
The Hold Steady has always been known for Craig Finn's deep, poetic lyrics, and that continues on Heaven is Whenever for the most part. Writing about something different than teens partying and getting high, Craig Finn begins to write advice songs like Soft in the Center and quasi-love songs like We Can Get Together. Now while there is this change, Craig Finn still maintains his haunting writing in Barely Breathing and A Slight Discomfort but with a different twist than songs from Stay Positive or Separation Sunday. There aren't many poorly written songs on the album though The Smidge is one of the worst Hold Steady songs in my opinion, even though the chorus is pretty tight and The Sweet Part of the City just drones to me. All and all, Craig Finn continues progressing while sticking to his roots.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, Heaven is Whenever isn't The Hold Steady's best work. To me, it feels like a step sideways rather than a step forward. Some songs (The Weekenders, Hurricane J, Our Whole Lives) are some of the best work the band has done whereas songs like The Smidge and The Sweet Part of the City are worth skipping and in some odd side-category, you have the songs that are great but just poorly produced like We Can Get Together and A Slight Discomfort. I'd buy it again if it was lost, but that would only be to support a band that I love so much.