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Customer Review

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Muddy and Mixed Experience, March 25, 2014
This review is from: Teeth Dreams (Audio CD)
After nearly four years The Hold Steady have finally graced us with their sixth album, Teeth Dreams. There's no doubt that this has been a long time coming and the end result is somewhat satisfying but far less interesting than some of their previous work.

The LP opens promisingly, with lead single "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" kicking things off in high gear. It's a solid rock tune, though for some reason Craig Finn's voice sounds distorted on the chorus. It's distracting and pulls you out of the song, a common problem that occurs frequently on Teeth Dreams. His unique vocals are constantly tweaked and laden with unnecessary effects that don't compliment the songs in any meaningful way. "Spinners" is one of the album's best cuts, a pop/rock tune that wouldn't sound out of place on a Counting Crows record, courtesy of jangley guitars and Finn's trademark storytelling. It's a solid start to the album and a worthy addition to the band's catalogue. It's a shame the rest of the album rarely scales these same heights.

The next few tracks are a mixed bag of distorted noise and wavering melodies. "The Only Thing" is decent, if somewhat forgettable. "The Ambassador" gives the record some much-needed breathing room and has traces of previous ballads like "Lord, I'm Discouraged", yet doesn't do much to really distinguish itself in spite of this promise. The soft piano is a nice touch and it's an element that would have been well-served by being included more frequently on the album. "On with the Business" also fails to really stand out, a mediocre rock tune that unfortunately feels too much like a throwaway tune. "Big Cig" steers things back on course. It has just the right amount of lyrical intrigue and upbeat energy to make it worthwhile. Add to that one of the album's only big guitar solos and it all comes together wonderfully. "Wait a While" is a serviceable rock number while also feeling like a weaker version of "Spinners", although I do enjoy it for what it is. "Runner's High" picks things back up and has grown into my favorite cut on the record. It's nothing fancy but it's a kick of raw rock energy that keeps things moving.

The last two tracks are where the album really comes around. The acoustic "Almost Everything" is wonderful, a bold track that makes me wish the rest of the album could have been sprinkled with this kind of diversity. The nine-minute closer "Oaks" wraps things up nicely and it once again brings much-needed diversity and laid-back atmosphere to the album. It never feels its length and harkens back to the classic sound that so many of us love about this band.

Teeth Dreams is neither great nor horrible; rather, it straddles the line and offers a few tremendous moments with a lot of passable ones. Finn's voice is too distorted with various echo effects to ever really connect and his storytelling, while still strong, feels more passive this time without strong music to really back it up. The gorgeous and energetic melodies of previous releases are largely absent, replaced by noisy yet clumsy arrangements. The departure of keyboardist Fran Nicolay has still left a massive hole in the band that has yet to really be filled. The Hold Steady were always a rock band that could think outside the box and transcend labels; here they seem to be comfortable in its boundaries. The group is capable of so much more and after four years we're left with a loud, raucous effort that comes off as more forced and less playful.

This album is simply lacking the fun that made previous efforts so engrossing and memorable. It's grown on me quite a bit since its release but I still feel it could have been a more consistent ride and offered a bit more bite.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 25, 2014 7:43:59 AM PDT
I could not agree more. Why bury and obfuscate the vocals? It is the expressiveness of those vocals working with the great lyrics that help make this band unique. This kind of production hampers them. They're a great band who appears to be getting bad advice.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 25, 2014 11:32:17 AM PDT
I'm glad I'm not alone! I think there are some solid tracks on this record but unfortunately there are also an equal amount of forgettable ones as well. I still love the band and will anxiously await their next record; for some reason they just sound tired on this one and the constant vocal effects don't help either.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 12, 2014 6:51:59 AM PDT
After having spent more time with the album, I like it a bit more, despite the inexplicably bad mixing. Strangely, it's made me go back and better appreciate "Heaven is Whenever."
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Location: Jefferson City, MO

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