If you were to scan over Craig Finn's lyrics detailing the youth of America's massive nights of sex, drugs, and getting 'messed up on the music', you might think Boys and Girls in America, The Hold Steady's third album in as many years, is a cautionary tale. Listen to the album, though, and you'll find the tales of drunken kids transformed by Tad Kubler's music into an air-punching celebration of what it is to be young and stupid.
This is an incredible example of words and music merging so perfectly together, colliding, contrasting, expanding and complimenting each other like on no other rock album I've heard in many a year. Whatever reservations you may have about Finn's nasal monotone, this is rock through and through. He's learned to sing (better) since Seperation Sunday, with the music instead of on top of it, immeasurably helping his stories really become songs (not to mention the inclusion of 'whoa whoa whoa' choruses).
The material is similar to SS but the scope is much larger. Heartbreaking stories of trying to fit in even when you know you can't such as 'You Can Make Him Like You' and teenage missions of getting high and wasted for the hell of it are here in spades, but Finn's brilliant lyricism and Kubler's cribbing of Thin Lizzy power chords celebrate and elevate the boys and girls' sad time together to become anthems you've known your whole life. It's not all fist-pumping stuff, the slow piano of 'First Night' is beautiful and the quieter 'Citrus' is also a wonderful moment. Boys and Girls is nostalgic, contemporary, beat, and hugely refreshing in a rock landscape where self-consciousness and irony stretch for miles around.