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Smooth Bananas: The Hold Steady’s ‘Open Door Policy’

The Hold Steady’s latest album is much like their own careers: born out of tough times and rough roads, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

The album, produced and released by Frenchkiss Records, Vagrant Records, Full Time Hobby, and Washington Square, is the rock band’s eighth studio album and features 11 tracks of similar lengths. The band was formed in 2003 by Brooklyn natives Craig Finn on vocals and guitar, Tad Kubler on guitar, Galen Polivka on bass, Bobby Drake on drums, Franz Nicolay on keyboards, and Steve Selvidge on guitar. Their music is also well known for its “lyrically dense” storytelling based on complex narrative and their heavy influences from classic rock giants such as Chicago and Kansas. Their songs also often feature themes related to drug addiction, religion, and redemption, as well as recurring characters and stories taking place in Minneapolis. 

The band has suffered some turmoil in the past couple of years when they lost their keyboardist Nicolay, describing his relationship to the rest of the band as “a fox among a band of hedgehogs.” Well, when the fox left the band, it’s evident that the hedgehogs were lesser without him. They released a handful of albums after this that fell flat on their faces. The albums “Heaven is Whenever” (2010) and “Teeth Dreams” (2014) were fumbles through music rather than strutting up to success. 

Thankfully, Franz Nicolay returned to the band in 2016 and it was a welcomed return. When Nicolay came back into the fold, it was like the entire band was back. They went back to their soaring anthems and hysterical humor told through the sounds of classic rock. Much like the band Weezer whose frontman is the lifeblood, Franz Nicolay’s compositional style is what carries the sound of “Open Door Policy.” It feels like a fresh start for the band after a down period. 

The opening track of the album “The Feelers” takes us back to that unique narrative style that The Hold Steady is so known for. It tells a story about climbing a mountain to pay respects to the dead in a ceremonial burial. The rest of the album has outcroppings of great musical happenings and big musical moments. With three guitarists and a keyboardist, The Hold Steady has a lot of musical capital to spend on this album. They fill out their tracks with soaring solos and thick musical textures. 

The true facet of “Open Door Policy” is The Hold Steady finding their collective voice again. The way they play together brings our attention to the musical motifs and thick textures as well as the narrative interplay. It’s like a family reunion of musical proportions. The songs of “Open Door Policy” help us to relate to all works of life. The handful of songs on this album could connect you to a software developer in Minneapolis or a bricklayer in Brooklyn.  

“Open Door Policy” is a jamming love letter to classic rock, and it deserves a good listen. “Open Door Policy” receives a B minus rating. 

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