Who knew that tales of drug-addled teens could be so operatic? The Hold Steady's "Boys and Girls in America" is a blistering rock 'n' roll album that merges the storytelling of Bruce Springsteen, the riffs of Thin Lizzy and the bleary-eyed stomp of the Replacements.
The album title references Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," but the generation chronicled by lead singer Craig Finn isn't so much Beat as beaten.
Finn's vocals are endearingly wobbly, but he is an uncanny songwriter who can wring exuberance from novocaine. Buoyed by crunching guitars and Wurlitzers, the record is a knockout, from the rollicking "Massive Nights" to the strung-out romance of "Chillout Tent." In "Chips Ahoy," Finn asks, "How am I supposed to know that you're high if you won't let me touch you?" There's no ambiguity with this record, though. It's high as a kite, and not coming down.
- Phil Bacharach