It’s been four years since The Hold Steady’s last album; a long time between drinks for a band often called one of America’s hardest working. The departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay after 2008’s excellent Stay Positive left 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever sounding like a band re-grouping and consolidating their position rather than taking on a new lease of life. The breathing space Nicolay left has since been filled by the addition of former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge, resulting in a fatter twin lead guitar sound, but the flair and dynamism the moustachioed keyboardist took with him is still sorely missed on this sixth album from the New York via Minneapolis rockers. That being said, all the usual stories of booze-soaked lost souls “waking up with that American sadness” – as Craig Finn sings on ‘On With The Business’ – are present and correct, and the singer-guitarist’s lyrics provide more depth and ideas in a single verse than many contemporaries do on an entire album. The reason why Teeth Dreams won’t be remembered as a classic Hold Steady album is that each song melts into the one before and the one after with no real discernible difference in sound. There’s nothing of the standard of ‘Stuck Between Stations’ or ‘Sequestered In Memphis’, and even the attempt at an attention-grabbing, riff-laden opener ‘I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You’ wouldn’t qualify as a B-side on some of the quintet’s earlier work. Indeed, many long-time Hold Steady fans will be left with the nagging feeling that perhaps Nicolay left at exactly the right time.
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