“You can’t kiss every girl,” Craig Finn sadly cautions early in Heaven Is Whenever. Unfortunately, the more appropriate wisdom gleaned from The Hold Steady’s fifth studio album is ultimately “You can’t go home again.”
Whether keyboardist Franz Nicolay saw the writing on the wall or his January departure left a bigger hole than his bandmates could plaster over, the effort falls sharply short of immediate predecessors Boys and Girls in America and Stay Positive. The same seedy dives, shady rendezvous and listless characters still inhabit The Hold Steady’s mythologized Minneapolis, only now the relentless insider phrasing is more monotonous than inventive, and Finn’s rousing calls to action have all but fallen silent, buried beneath one aimless, muddled melody after another. He’s not yet a grizzled loner muttering about the old days at the end of the bar. But the regulars have heard his same old stories a few too many times before.