• Hank Melluish

Open Door Policy Review

There are no casual The Hold Steady listeners, it turns out. Nobody just likes a couple of The Hold Steady songs. This is a group that knows its fans, plays to its fans, and damn all the rest. Now, I boarded that train a bit late, just last year I think, but damn if they’ve not become one of my favorite bands of all time. Beginning in 2004 with the release of Almost Killed Me through Stay Positive (their magnum-opus of a fourth album in 2008) they were batting 100 and could have called it quits there. Their successive two albums, Heaven is Whenever and Teeth Dreams were two definitive steps down, considering the departure of Franz Nicolay, the resident piano-man, because with him went the soul of the sound they had cultivated. Of course, the brain remained in the form of Craig Finn, lead singer and class-A poet, and when Nicolay returned for 2019’s Thrashing Thru the Passion, the band was back in business for its second act: the act of contrition.

I should start off by saying that I have never been more thrilled with a new album by a group I’m following than I was with Open Door Policy, released on February 19th of this year. It--perhaps even more so than their prior output--seems tailor-made for this city-based ennui and loneliness. It’s different. More contemplative. I’d been following the singles as they dropped, and while they promised something great, I guess I had no idea just how great it would be. We open with “The Feelers,” a slow song and one totally uncharacteristic of an opener of any album they’ve ever put out. It’s slow and hazy. Like the soundtrack of a hangover. It seems an odd choice at first, but it’s an exceptional choice for this one for it’s almost dirgey quality which soon gives way to a bittersweet ending.

The whole album plays this way, really. It’s like they’ve woken up in a stupor. The second track, “Spices,” was one of the singles that dropped, and is definitely more of a grower than a shower. It’s a dismal, paranoid song from the rock bottom looking up, and the lyrics are pure poetry. The sinister imagery of bartenders “strangling their shakers” and Finn’s unnamed muse “trading stickers with… shipwrecked sailors” casts a foreboding tone, further setting the stage for the rest of the album.