Sound — 7
Starting as a classic rock cover band that performed in bars, The Hold Steady's humble beginnings have been the dominant theme of their music - an "average Joe" rock band with some interesting stories to tell. While indieheads might denounce this classic "meat and potatoes" style of rock as regressive in this day and age, THS' music has a simple charm to it, and makes for the perfect soundtrack for drinking beers with your friends and having a good time. Though their stark method of detailed and poetic narratives of "a buddy of mine" over plain & direct guitar riffs has been the main appeal of the band, by the time their fifth album, "Heaven Is Whenever," came out, even fans were wondering if THS' style was growing stale, and if their reservoir of material was starting to dry up. But now, with the release of their sixth album, "Teeth Dreams," everyone's ready and eager to hear the new stories frontman Craig Finn has to tell.
Musically, "Teeth Dreams," is exactly what you'd expect from The Hold Steady: hearty, old-fashioned rock that echoes a Bruce Springsteen inspiration. Songs like "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," "Spinners," "On With the Business," "Big Cig" and "Runner's High" are classic, rough & tumble rock songs that are destined for bar-room jukeboxes - with brawny guitar riffs, good dominant bass-lines in the verses and vintage guitar solos. "The Ambassador," "Wait a While" and "Oaks" are the designated slow songs on the album in order to contrast the macho-ness from the previously mentioned songs: "The Ambassador" starts off with soft, reverberated guitars, a laid-back drum-line and piano keys, and an organ line comes in later on; "Wait a While" is a nice, electric-less ballad consisting of only two acoustic guitars and Finn's vocals; and "Oaks" is the closing power ballad of the album that is the textbook example of a "lighter-waver," and contains a guitar solo early on, as well as a prolonged guitar solo at the end that goes on for over two minutes. And "The Only Thing" and "Wait a While" occupy the space in between the burly songs and the slow songs, utilizing organ lines and acoustic guitars and containing a sparse amount of power chords, but the drum-fills provide a good source of energy for the tracks to keep them from being snooze-worthy.
Lyrics — 9
Anybody familiar with The Hold Steady knows that the lyrical aspect is where the band truly shines - and anybody not familiar with THS will be able to figure that out by the first verse of any of their songs. Craig Finn's lyrical themes in his songs are "a slice of life," and that's exactly what you'll find in all of "Teeth Dreams," which continue telling stories of characters Finn has written about throughout THS' discography. If you're privy to THS' lyrics, you'll be able to catch lots of callbacks and references to older things, such as in "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You," when the main character's girlfriend finds out about his criminal past that has been mentioned in several of THS' earlier songs. But even if you're not interested in studying the fictional world that Finn has created in his music in order to pick up on the esoteric factor, the lyrics are still enjoyable at face value. From specific stories about a girl that can't stand being alone and can't bring herself to enjoy the company of someone else (in "Spinners") and fatal attraction (in "Big Cig"), to more general stories about social anxiety and the everyday madness of the world (in "On With the Business" and "Almost Everything"), Finn's lyrics have you hanging on every word, and each person is bound to have their own personal favorite that resonates with them.
Overall Impression — 8
From a sound perspective, nothing new is being founded, both in terms of rock music and in terms of the band's sound. The Hold Steady stays in their comfort zone musically, and it's fair if you want to turn your nose up at that. But you shouldn't let that take away from the lyrical savvy from the album, which is still a very strong muscle in THS' compositions. "Teeth Dreams" is another collection of stories wrapped in heartland rock music (perhaps it could even coin the term "blue-collar prog rock"), and it contains both good moments to rock out to and moments to calm down and reflect. The number of expressive lyrics and emotions the songs evoke makes the album easy to listen to from front to back, and it also gives the album replay value as well. So despite not being musically arduous, it's a good album.