The Hold Steady's muscular guitar rock is rarely punctuated on Stay Positive. There's a splash of piano here and a taste of banjo there, but the electrified power chords are stuck in overdrive during most of these 10 new songs. Storytelling is the principle counterpoint. These Minneapolis expats, now living in New York, hook their audience with working-class sing-alongs that celebrate and explore the dark side of "townie" culture.
But the Hold Steady's stories are lean on original characters. More often than not, they rely on blue-collar cliché, like the reference to working "at the mill until you die" on "Constructive Summer."
Admittedly, I'm out of step with the critical consensus that the Hold Steady are one of the best rock bands around right now. I can't blame Craig Finn for sounding like the Boss, but the music and lyrical themes too often seem like they're trying to echo Born to Run. Stay Positive did little to convince me that the Hold Steady are anything more than a Springsteen knock-off.