Open Door Policy

The Hold Steady

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Open Door Policy Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The Hold Steady returned to action in 2019 with Thrashing Thru the Passion, an album that functioned as a clearinghouse of sorts as it featured several songs originally released as digital singles and EPs in the years prior to the LP's release. Its swift sequel, Open Door Policy, is another beast entirely. Written and recorded as a cohesive album, Open Door Policy feels like the Cinemascope cousin to Thrashing Thru the Passion: the Hold Steady take full advantage of their larger canvass. Often, this amounts to vigorous splashes of color and muscular flexes from the sextet, their ebb and flow following the dense yet openhearted narratives from Craig Finn. The individual songs on Open Door Policy don't quite add up to a cohesive story. Rather, they're a series of connected sketches and portraits, all addressing individuals adrift in an age of alienation. Finn's words deserve concentration, but the key to Open Door Policy is how it plays as an operatic rock & roll record, where the emphasis lies more on the melodrama than the grit. Perhaps this slowing pace is the inevitable side effect of middle age -- it's harder to rant and rave than it was two decades earlier -- or perhaps it's a conscious decision to mirror the material. Either way, by focusing on bringing light and shade into the margins, the Hold Steady wound up with an album that feels vivid and alive; it's as if the songs themselves have a life outside of the recording.

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