Welcome to my favorite album of this century.
Actually, (and yes, I’m “actually”ing myself), welcome to my favorite album since Nevermind & Achtung Baby!, which makes Boys and Girls in America my favorite album of the past quarter-century.
And if I could somehow prorate the age I was when this album came out against the age I was when I first discovered all of the albums I would otherwise put into my all-time top 20, it would definitely be in the conversation.
On Boys and Girls in America, their sound thickened. If Franz Nicolay’s keyboards were used for color and flavor on Separation Sunday, now they were an integral part of a thick stew.
It’s all right there in the opening of the first song on the album, “Stuck Between Stations,” which opens with a guitar stab that is almost instantly countered by a rolling piano and a kick drum build into the song proper, at which point Craig Finn essays his thesis statement for the entire album.
There are nights when I think
That Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America
They have such a sad time together
It’s a classic rock ‘n’ roll subject, of course. The classic rock ‘n’ roll subject really, but Finn infuses his tales of young love and lust with a specificity that resonates beyond the individual people he’s writing about.
She was a really cool kisser
And she wasn’t all that strict of a Christian
She was a damn good dancer
But she wasn’t all that great of a girlfriend
He likes the warm feeling
But he’s tired of all the dehydration
Most nights are crystal clear
But tonight it’s like he’s stuck between stations
On the radio
In fact, it resonates beyond generations. I mean, in the age of digital tuners, getting stuck between stations is a near-impossibility, and yet anybody who hears this song knows exactly what he’s on about. And it also helps that Nicolay’s backing vocals come in just perfectly throughout.
And the stinging guitar that Tad Kubler brings in after the chorus doesn’t hurt, either.
There was that night that we thought
John Berryman could fly
But he didn’t, so he died
She said “You’re pretty good with words,
But words won’t save your life”
And they didn’t, so he died
I didn’t know who John Berryman was, but I sure got the Jim Carroll reference, and either way, that verse was funny and poignant at the same time, and has always killed me, maybe because I’m always worried about whether or not I’m going to need my words to save my life, as well.
It’s only a guess, but the mix of wit and full-bore rock — even during the piano breakdown — that defines “Stuck Between Stations” is probably why it’s probably the consensus favorite Hold Steady song as far as the fanbase is concerned.
It’s not mine, but it is a helluva way to begin a helluva record.
Official Video for “Stuck Between Stations”
“Stuck Between Stations” performed lived on Late Night with David Letterman
“Stuck Between Stations” performed live on Later With Jools Holland
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