“OK, screw whatever else we were gonna do next week…” — Nick Porcaro, Pop-Break Designer and Senior Writer
The Hold Steady’s latest single, “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You’ (off their upcoming release Teeth Dreams) inspired more true excitement out the crew of The Singles Party than any song in recent memory. Yes, we’ve ironically been excited for the new Limp Bizkit track, but when it comes to the ol’ Hold, the crew was stoked.
So without further adieu…
Nick Porcaro: As a hardcore Hold Steady fan it pains me to admit that, ever since the breakout success of Boys and Girls in America, the band’s quality petered out just a little bit. 2008’s Stay Positive was quite enjoyable, with its fair share of knockout tracks, but it wasn’t a must-listen like the band’s prior albums. The same can be said for their most recent effort, 2010’s controversially overproduced Heaven is Whenever.
Though the band flexes its new three-guitar arsenal with menacing ease on “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”, this first preview of March 25th’s Teeth Dreams fails to break the trend. The tune reads rather promising on paper, with front man Craig Finn weaving a classically skittish tale of how demons from our past can unexpectedly return to haunt us. We see Minneapolis through the eyes of a hometown boy visiting his old stomping grounds, girlfriend in tow, only to be confronted with a reminder of the unfortunately violent and bigoted punk scene he left behind. Finn’s lyrics deliberately linger on ambiguous phrases that make the whole scenario seem far more dangerous than it is.
The tense verses make for great storytelling but there’s an odd, unintentional disconnect between music and words here. None of the melodies reflect the concern voiced by the main character, and Finn continues to struggle in consolidating his renowned “drunken ramble” vocals with a sweeter singing style. In the end neither side is well represented, with both the spoken words and sung melodies coming across as half-hearted and uninventive. If it weren’t already clear that the song doesn’t quite work, its final note is a major chord. This seemingly innocent gesture undermines the song’s concept by implying a sense of resolution and peace instead of the continued uncomfortable tension between boy and girl.
“I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” is pleasing to the ears but it’s absolutely inessential, and for a band as mighty as the Hold Steady, that’s a damn shame. Verdict: one and done.
Mike Heyliger: I’ve tried to get into the Hold Steady on a couple of occasions. I owned Boys & Girls In America as well as Stay Positive and never really found anything that stuck to my ribs.
Same goes for this song. It’s pleasant enough, and I can see how/why other people like it. As for me? I wouldn’t change the station if it was playing on the radio, but I also wouldn’t spend .99 or 1.29 on iTunes or Amazon to buy it. Just not my thing. Verdict: One and Done.
Jason Kundrath: “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” rings in a new era for the Hold Steady following the exit of Franz Nicolay and the official addition of guitarist Steve Selvidge, and it seems we’re in for a great record. On this track, the band sounds huge, heavy, dark and dangerous. The wall of guitars courtesy of Tad and Steve recall the best work of Sugar-era Bob Mould, and singer Craig Finn sounds like his storytelling has been infused with the extra power his band is whipping up behind him. Verdict: Add to the playlist
Jason Stives: After four years, which is the longest fans have had to wait, the Hold Steady have unveiled “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You” to the public in anticipation of their new album, Teeth Dreams. Front man Craig Finn has said in interviews that they wanted to make a big rock record and if this track is any indication they sure as hell did just that. Spitting lyrics out like a malfunctioning card shuffler, Finn delivers his trade mark talky vocals over a Foo Fighters-style rocker blasting the Hold Steady into their most prominent period of exposure. At this point the talky vocals are now taking the form of a proper singing voice over this enormously produced number. This isn’t the Hold Steady sound that is accented perfectly for bar band nonsense; this is a band finally coming into their notoriety and feeding great anticipation. With Teeth Dreams due for release in March this is a quick lap right before the big game and one that demands and rightfully deserves your attention. Verdict: Add to the playlist
Bill Bodkin: Much like Mike, The Hold Steady has been a band that I’ve enjoyed but they’ve really resonated as a “must-listen” band to me. Sure, I’ve got “Stuck Between Stations” on my Spotify and I dig it, but for some reason I’ve never really dug further into their catalog like Nick or the Jasons have. So, going solely off this track, I have to say I love this song. I’m a sucker for a big rock record and this is a big rock single. I love the guitar work and Craig Finn’s oddly charming voice. This damn fine music and one that’s actually inspired me to dig into the back wall of the Hold Steady. Verdict: Add to Playlist.
Final Verdict: We’re going to recommend this song by a one-vote margin. The Hold Steady’s new direction is one that has divided our panel, so definitely give this one a listen and you know what, let us know what you think in the comments section so we can discuss!