Despite Finn’s linguistic brilliance, nothing evokes the Hold Steady’s essence more than the wordless choruses that punctuate “Stay Positive” and so many of the band’s sing-along songs. “Whoah-hoah-hoah” is ripe with meaning in the quintet’s hands, a joyful and communal cathartic shout. So it’s no surprise that the band returns to the sing-along scripture on “Slapped Actress,” the album’s closing song. It begins with them locked into a locomotive groove (driven by bassist Galen Polivka), revisiting Ybor City, Florida, site of some near-fatal parties. But they return home alive, and take control of their fate with a cinematic sweep. “We’re the directors,” Finn sings, “our hands will hold steady/I’ll be John Cassavetes/Let me know when you’re ready.” Then, as the song fades, the hope-filled chorus rises — “Whoah-hoah! Whoah-hoah-hoah-hoah! Whoah-hoah-hoah-hoah-hoah!” — capping Stay Positive and an epic four-album run that secures the Hold Steady’s spot in the pantheon of great American bands.
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