This is my first exposure to The Hold Steady, an alternative band that’s been performing together for almost twenty years. On “Open Door Policy”, my first impression of the band is that there’s a lot here that could be great if it weren’t for one specific weak spot.
Being given the tagline “Power, Wealth, and Mental Health” by frontman Craig Finn, “Open Door Policy” is filled with heartland rock and indie rock tunes in a similar vain to that of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty but given a post-punk edge. The Hold Steady has a great knack for creating dreamy atmospheres and nostalgic vibes that, with a different singer, could easily be compared to a band like The War on Drugs. One of the main things separating them from that hand, however, is the lyrics, which are very narrative based. I’m still trying to get a better understanding of everything being said, but the songs often tell stories of the narrator trying to find himself in an increasingly bleaker world. There’s something genuinely captivating about Craig Finn’s style of lyricism that I think pairs well with the band’s instrumentation.
However, while I think his lyrics are a good selling point for this album, Craig Finn’s vocal delivery really gets in the way of me properly enjoying this album. I don’t have a problem with spoken word style vocals, in fact a lot of albums I enjoy incorporate spoken word, by Craig’s vocals sound frequently goofy in a way that negatively stands out, and I’m not even sure if that’s his intention. If you really want a descriptor to imagine why this falls flat as hard as it does - imagine if Lin Manuel Miranda was singing and rapping over indie rock instrumentals. Maybe to other listeners this would be a unique quality, but for me it just undercuts this album from potentially being great.
I often feel silly when my enjoyment of a project is negatively affected by something that feels like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but I genuinely believe Craig’s awkward and goofy vocal performance gets in the way of his great lyrics and the rest of The Hold Steady’s approach to post-punk influenced heartland rock from reaching its full potential on “Open Door Policy”.