I listened to this record twice through, streaming it from the Guardian website last night (It's easy to find the preview there if you want:guardian.co.uk/music). From what I've heard, I'll be pre-ordering it directly.
My first encounter with The Hold Steady was their third album, Boys and Girls in America, and I've seen them pretty recently so while I'm not exactly a die-hard, from the beginning fan, they have made a real impression on me in the last few years.
This is a pretty shallow reflection on the album, as I've not had the chance to listen to it repeatedly, but I will say they seem to have found a way to accomodate the desire to move away from the more bombastic BAGIA sound while keeping the songwriting and energy levels exceptionally high. Since the way they used traditional US rock styles along with sometimes self-consciously naive, sometimes almost arch lyricism is what attracted me to the band in the first place, this album definitely counts as a success to me.
Since Franz Nicolay is no longer playing with the band, we're having to say goodbye to a lot of the twinkling pianos and organ chops, along with some of the more obviously punk influenced "Woah-oh-woah-oh" singalongs. Sadly missed, but the understated keys and pedals steel playing make up for it.
All in all, an excllent record from the two listens I've given it, and I'm looking forward to getting physical copy and getting to know it as well as BAGIA