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The Hold Steady | Thrashing Thru the Passion

Craig Finn & his guitar-rockers deliver something old and something new.

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WHO ARE THEY? Your cool uncle’s favourite band — and arguably America’s last great guitar-rock group. Naturally, they live in Brooklyn. Just as naturally, they’re originally from the Midwest — Minneapolis, to be exact, the home of the Twins, Prince and foghorn-voiced Hold Steady singer-guitarist Craig Finn, a guy who looks like he should be fixing your phone or doing your taxes instead of rocking your world.

WHAT IS THIS? Their first album in five years and their seventh studio set of motormouth Finn’s wordy, conversational narratives — set as always to crunchy, punchy riff-rockers. But here’s something new: It’s also kind of a hybrid, with five brand-new songs offset by five cuts the band has released digitally over the last few years.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Their latest in a series of steps toward personal and musical maturity. Over the years, Finn’s razor-sharp songwriting has slowly shifted from tales of druggy decadence to more thoughtful takes on life, love and loss. Meanwhile, his idiosyncratic vocals have improved to the point where they’re no longer a deal-breaker, while his musical palette has expanded with the addition of bold horns, stronger melodies and richer heartland-rock arrangements.

WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER TITLE FOR THIS ALBUM? You Did Good Kid — which happens to be the song whose lyrics include the disc’s actual title.

HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? In the garage with your beer-drinking buddies.

WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Literate, layered, smart, arch, muscular, driving, rousing, grown-up, positive, classic.

WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? If Finn has written a bad song, I haven’t heard it. So you really can’t go wrong. But Denver Haircut, Entitlement Crew and Star 18 are good places to start this time around.

WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY SAY? ‘I thought guitar-rock was dead.’

HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? Naturally, it isn’t their most focused, topical or vital album. But the individual tracks are more than strong enough to bring you back — especially after a five-year drought.

IF THIS ALBUM WERE A PET, WHAT KIND OF PET WOULD IT BE? A faithful, loyal dog that keeps getting mellower, smarter and more dependable with age.

SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? You always get your money’s worth out of these guys. Plus, I seem to recall reading about some sort of deal for folks who already shelled out for the initial songs.