A confession: Lifter Puller's Fiestas and Fiascos
is my desert island record. Through a magical combination of sneering humor, adept musicianship and imaginative songwriting, the album moved beyond the hipster-flex of most post-rock albums into a world inhabited by derelicts, drug addicts and an anti-hero the likes of whom only previously existed in bad Urban Dramas -- Nightclub Dwight. The band dissolved at the height of its prowess (a rarity in this age of second- and third- generation emo resurrections), leaving behind enough material to be appreciated for years to come. Members of Lifter Puller reconnect in The Hold Steady, a band more fixated with guitar solos and drunken fist-pumping than in the more nuanced, desperate territory of their former incarnation.
"Positive Jam" opens the album with the promise of a less-is-more approach, little more than a guitar solo holding together Finn's narrative of the last eighty years in American history, all leading up to The Hold Steady's creation as a rock band against anything quotidian: sniffling indie-kids, eight-dollar-beer drinking scenesters, clustered-up clubbing kids. In other words, The Hold Steady are out to point a finger at the very audience that has made Finn's much-loved-in-death but ignored-in-life Lifter Puller a box on the Hipster Checklist.
"The Swish" presents Finn in Fiestas and Fiascos-form, deftly word-playing and name-checking: "She said my name's Rick Danko but people call me One Hour Photo / I got some hazardous chemicals so drive around to the window / she said my name's Robbie Robertson but people call me Robo / I blew red wine and blew right in a tissue / I came over the counter just to kiss you". Steve Perry, Elizabeth Shue, Nina Simone and others are dropped into the mix, showcasing Finn's singular talent for fusing the beauty of the ordinary with the outlandish, ever-present influence of popular culture.
Finn's lyrical prowess shows some dents in its armor, with the repetition of old standards ("tripping wet", "made love to the interstates") feeling less like a nod to the past and more like a crutch. The album hits a lull near the middle, where the songs do little to advance a new sound. However, Finn on a bad day is (to use a baseball metaphor, as Finn often did with Lftr Pllr) like Ferguson Jenkins, the Hall of Fame pitcher who would be a household name had he not pitched for some of the worst Cubs teams in history (and that's saying a lot) -- he gets the job done, often with style and grace, but usually with a disguised elegance. Almost Killed Me is not Finn's best work, but, like Jenkins, it's a pleasure to watch him work, even on a bad day.