All the End of the Decade lists are pointing to either Almost Killed Me or Boys and Girls in America as The Hold Steady's contribution of their albums to the last 10 years. I say that Separation Sunday was head and shoulders better, even if all you've got is the first three tracks ("Hornets! Hornets!," "Cattle and The Creeping Things," and "Your Little Hoodrat Friend.").
Boys and Girls in America was what Hold Steady frontman and songwriter Craig Finn had seen and felt, as the crowds coming to his shows got huge and the record was buzzed massively. It's a real feeling. But Separation Sunday was balls to the wall, everything he had, everything we've all seen down in the dirt. It's the ups and downs of life to a soundtrack that thoroughly kicks the listeners ass (a sentiment that, to be fair, is true of every one of the albums from The Hold Steady).
Somewhere along the way, people started making Springsteen comparisons. Maybe because the Hold Steady jams the way they say the E Street Band used to. Aside from that - which may or may not be true - I don't see the comparison because where Springsteen is putting it on for whatever the common man is supposed to be, Finn is singing about the underbelly of the teen years and early 20s and probably beyond. You know, the ones that everybody pines for. The ones that so-called adults like to act like they've forgotten about, even as they try desperately to reclaim them.
I dug the The Hold Steady at half Finn's age because he sings ironically about smoking pot and soaking up rock and roll and weaves bible stories into modern tales of suburban growing up. "I always like the guy at door," Finn sings, "cause he always knows what you came to his house for." Separation Sunday is full of wordy anthems with lines like that from start to finish. Words that everyone from the 70s on know about. Yeah, Finn "can't stand it when the banging stops," and neither can we.
But by the time The Hold Steady got to Boys and Girls in America, one of the best albums of the decade for sure, for a couple years he'd been watching 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds that hate each other now get down together to jams about stuff one is living and one used to live but doesn't remember how to get back to. Boys and Girls in America is about both of them. Separation Sunday, among other things, is about the times that both love and hate and never want to give up, and that alone makes it a better album.
(In reality, all the band's albums do this. My preference has more to do with bitterness that Separation Sunday is getting no attention due either to these bloggers "their first album was the best" or "thier biggest album is the best" sentiments. In reality, YOU should download all of them.)