Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
Roky Erickson & the Aliens, The Evil One

The late, great Roky Erickson saw dead people. He also saw zombies, vampires, demons, Lucifer, two-headed dogs, a creature with an atomic brain, alligators, and Sputnik. For all I know he saw unicorns too, but if so he didn’t tell anybody.

The former 13th Floor Elevators frontman was both a survivor and a hero; he struggled with mental illness for over 50 years, but never let it defeat him. He was forced to undergo electro-convulsive therapy, had thorazine shoved down his throat, and lived to tell the tale. Anybody who suffers from mental illness or knows someone who does understands just what a hard road he traveled. The man had spirit.

Given this back story, it can be difficult to distinguish Roky’s mental illness from his love of Grade B horror and science fiction movies, especially on 1981’s The Evil One, a veritable parade of all of the beasties, ghastlies, and ghoulies enumerated above. Produced by Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook (who played on two cuts), The Evil One’s songs are surprisingly catchy, mainstream even–take away the Halloween themes and dress ‘em up a little, and many of these songs would have sounded right at home on FM radio.

The songs on The Evil One stick with you–listen to the LP a couple of times and you’ll be able to hum along to most of ‘em. You may know all of the lyrics too. Erickson had a lot in common with Blue Öyster Cult, who also mated surprisingly melodic rock ’n’ roll with outré subject matter: Godzilla, extraterrestrials, Nazi fighter jets, flaming telepaths, and I think you get the idea.

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Graded on a Curve:
David Bowie,
Never Let Me Down

Never let you down? How about never letting us down? On this 1987 dry well of an LP David Bowie–who thanks to 1983’s Let’s Dance and 1984’s Tonight had finally achieved the vast popular success that had eluded him throughout the years–stooped yet again to conquer, and put paid to his reputation as a genius/ trendsetter in the process. Never Let Me Down wasn’t just a stumble, or even the worst LP of Bowie’s career–it was a harbinger of the lost years to come.

One hardly knows where to start. With the second-rate dance rhythms? The forgettable melodies? The overweening (let’s go big big big!) but ultimately counter-productive production? The ubiquitous (and headache-provoking) ’80s drum drum drum? The horrifying harmonica Bowie seems to have borrowed from Boy George? His lackluster vocals and lack of commitment to the material? The inexplicable presence of Mickey Rourke? Did I just say Mickey Rourke?

On Never Let Me Down Bowie shamelessly panders to his newfound audience. Pandering is but a form of condescension, and on Never Let Me Down he doesn’t just make a whore of himself; he makes whores of us all. I’m one of those people (Velvet Goldmine director Todd Haynes being another) who thinks Bowie sold his soul for fame with Let’s Dance. But the devil always exacts his due. He spared Bowie eternal damnation; guess he figured Never Let Me Down was punishment enough.

Inexplicably many critics–blinded perhaps their fond memories of past glories and unwilling to face up to his precipitous fall from grace–had nothing but good things to say about the album. Bowie himself was far less deluded, telling a 1995 interviewer, “My nadir was Never Let Me Down. It was such an awful album…I really shouldn’t have even bothered going into the studio to record it.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Rolling Stones,
Goat’s Head Soup

By anybody else’s standards a very good LP; coming as it did on the heels of Exile on Main Street, a colossal disappointment. And this despite a few top-notch songs. For The Rolling Stones 1973’s Goat Head Soup was the beginning of the end; the title of It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll about says it all, and Some Girls was less a last gasp than a death rattle. After that, the abyss.

All great bands have their golden age, and with the Stones that golden age lasted from 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet to 1972’s Exile on Main Street. Inside those bookends were 1969’s Let It Bleed and 1971’s Sticky Figures–masterpieces all. This four album run–five if you consider Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, which I don’t–beats The Beatles and put them in a dead heat with Bob Dylan. But as with the Beatles and Dylan, all good things come to an end.

How do I adjudge Exile on Main Street to be a great album, and Goats Head Soup but a good one? Simple. While every single song on Exile is engraved upon my memory, for the life of me I can never remember what such songs as “100 Years Ago,” “Coming Down Again, “Hide Your Love,” and “Can’t You Hear the Music” even sound like. It would be unfair to call them forgettable, but I’ll be damned if I can remember them.

On Exile the Stones ripped that joint, let it loose, then scraped the shit right off their shoes. On Goats Heads Soup they sound, well, enervated. Weary, or even worse, complacent. Like a band resting on its laurels. The LP has a couple of excellent slow ones on it, but ballads were never the Stones’ forte; they made their bones playing a raunched-up variant on American rhythm and blues, and on Goats Head Soup the raunch is missing in action.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Byrds,
Mr. Tambourine Man

So I was hanging out with the Weavers at the Troubadour’s Monday Hoot Night when Chris Hillman walked through the door and said, “Hey Mike, Jim McGuinn and I just invented folk rock. And it’s gonna be huge!”

“Yeah, right,” I said as I tuned my Alpine zither. “And within 10 years we’re going to put a man on the moon. What are you, eight miles high?”

“Hmm,” said Chris thoughtfully, adding “Wanna join our band?”

“And give up playing my zither-based adaptations of Woody Guthrie songs in front of 7 people? Give me 8 years and I’ll be opening for Tiny Tim. I’m gonna be bigger than Dave Van Ronk!”

“Get real, man… “

“I am real, whatever that means. This whole “just add electricity thing” is a passing thing, like The Beatles. What do you plan to call yourselves, anyway?”

“The Birds.”

“Pretty lame,” said I. “I suppose you’ll spell it with a ‘y.’”

“Hmm,” said Chris.

“Who’s in your so-called group?”

“Well, in addition to McGuinn we got Gene Clark, and Michael Clarke. Oh, and David Crosby.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Cheap Trick,
Heaven Tonight

What a cheap trick. Here Rockford, Illinois’ finest put out Heaven Tonight which I considered the coolest album in the galaxy, only to follow it up with Cheap Trick at Budokan and the heinous “I Want You to Want Me,” which I’ve had to suffer through like 80,000 times over the years. Every single person I know loves the damn song. I’d sooner listen to the death rattle of a unicorn.

That said, 1978’s Heaven Tonight–the band’s third–still makes me as giddy as an axe-wielding maniac at remote summer camp. It’s a knee-trembling, rock ‘em sock ‘em, wham bam than you ma’am classic, and it solidly established Cheap Trick amongst America’s Power Pop elite alongside the Raspberries, Big Star, and (my campy faves) Redd Kross.

What set Cheap Trick apart from the power pop pack was hard rock crunch. They infused their catchy melodies with steroids: had they been ML baseball players they’d have gone the way of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Songs such as “Surrender,” “On the Radio,” and “How Are You” may not be cement mixers, but “High Roller,” “Auf Wiedersehen,” and “Stiff Competition” all fall into Robert Christgau’s characterization of Heaven Tonight as “power-tooled hard rock product.”

Heaven Tonight is a case of eclecticism at work. “Surrender” is an ecstatic-making monument, like Mount Rushmore but with a better chorus. And it’s funny to boot. Robin Zander comes downstairs to discover his parents going at it, and with his Kiss records playing to boot. It’s a friendly bridge across the generation gap; if the kids are alright, so are the parents. Mom and dad aren’t out of it, they’re with it, and it’s a life-altering revelation.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Mama’s and the Papa’s, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears

A few random observations about The Mama’s and the Papa’s’ 1966 debut LP and folk-pop classic If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears.

1. This album has everything, including a toilet on the cover! Which puts it in some elite crapper company, including the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Sebadoh’s Bakesale, Millie Jackson’s Back to the S__T!, and Humble Pie’s Thunderbox. (The Circle Jerks’ Golden Shower of Hits doesn’t count, because it features a urinal.) As for the toilet on If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, it faded from view and was living in filth and poverty until 1988, when it sued the Mamas and the Papas for royalties and won. It currently resides in Costa del Sol and is married to a supermodel.

2. There’s a great story about how Mama Cass Elliot came to join the Mamas and the Papas. Seems John Phillips didn’t want her in the band because of her limited vocal range. THEN, but let’s let Elliott tell it:

“They were tearing this club apart in the islands, revamping it, putting in a dance floor. Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head… I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It’s true. Honest to God.”

It’s a great story. Unfortunately it’s not true. Seems Phillips didn’t want Elliot in the band because she was too fat. Me, I prefer her story. It gives me hope that one day I’ll get conked on the head by a length of pipe, and suddenly discover I can sing like Geddy Lee.

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Graded on a Curve: Canned Heat,
Living the Blues

Come on over, kids, and sit on your granddad’s lap. He wants to bore you to tears with tales of the good old days, when American blues band Canned Heat (what ‘cha mean ya never heard of ‘em?) were, like, Gods. Not only did they knock ‘em dead at Monterey and Woodstock, they gave voice to the counterculture zeitgeist with their ode to hippie urban flight, “Going Up the Country.” A lot of freaks listened to it, built themselves lean-tos in the woods, and got torn to pieces by grizzly bears.

And get this, Bobby and Lu Ann: Canned Heat also have the distinction of recording the longest song in rock history. The Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” (which comes in at a succinct by comparison 33 minutes and 41 seconds) can’t touch it. Yes’ “Fly from Here” (which is the soul of brevity at 23 minutes and 49 seconds) doesn’t even come close. And Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida, which clocks in less than 18 minutes, is practically a Minutemen song. (And don’t even try to sell me on J. Tull’s Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play; both are made up of individual songs strung together like a chain gang and don’t count.)

Yes, kiddies, Canned Heat hold the world record. It’s 41-minutes long and called “Refried Boogie” and you can hear it on the band’s 1968 double LP Living the Blues. Why you (or anybody else) would want to listen to it is a mystery to me, but that was the trouble with your average hippie–no quality control.

A few words about the band. Canned Heat was founded by two rabid blues enthusiasts (Alan “Owl” Wilson and Bob “Bear” Hite), took its name from every rail yard hobo’s alcoholic beverage of choice, and boasted a most excellent pair of electric guitarists (Wilson and Henry Vestine, the latter of whom had the rare distinction of being kicked out of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention for smoking pot). Wilson was a brilliant harmonica player and had one of the most distinctive voices of the hippie epoch. Hite was fat. Everybody in the band was stone ugly, which is kind of cool. Your long-hairs loved ‘em.

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Graded on a Curve: Mountain,
Climbing!

Leslie West is a heavy guy. He weighs like 1,000 lbs and plays heavy music and called his band Mountain because mountains are very heavy, and his song “Mississippi Queen” is so heavy it has to be carried from gig to gig in a specially made truck of the sort the U.S. Army uses to transport intercontinental ballistic missiles. And forget about vinyl. Mountain was so heavy they released their 1970 debut on concrete. It weighed 42 pounds and crushed a whole lot of record players.

Lots of folks dismissed Mountain (West on guitar and vocals, Felix Pappalardi on bass and vocals, Corky Laing on drums, and Steve Knight on keyboards) as Long Island’s answer to Cream, and on songs like “Theme for an Imaginary Western,” “For Yasgur’s Farm,” “The Laird,” and “Boys in the Band” the resemblance is striking. But on Climbing! Mountain escapes their Cream fetish to produce songs as humongous as the whale you keep expecting to show up in “Nantucket Sleighride,” except he never does.

Given Mountain’s reputation as the heaviest beast to ever slouch out of Long Island, Climbing! is far more diverse than you’d expect. Sure, you get some nifty Godzilla stomp along the lines of “Mississippi Queen.” But the band also flirts with acid-prog of the sort that won’t wreak havoc on your tweeters, and tosses in a couple of genre-benders that defy all known ethnomusicological definition. In short, Mountain was no one-trick mastodon.

The band’s division of vocal duties further lent diversity to Mountain’s sound. West’s rhino snort contrasts nicely with Pappalardi’s Jack Bruce, and the duo delegates lead vocal chores accordingly–West sings the speaker-busters, Pappalardi the more Cream-influenced tracks.

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Graded on a Curve:
Pink Floyd,
Wish You Were Here

I have a dream. It’s that someone will put out a LP of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here made out of sugar and heavily laced with LSD. That way you could lick it before turning it on, and hear the damn album the way it should be heard, while you’re peaking.

It would be appropriate; has any major band ever been as associated with acid as Pink Floyd? (Yeah. The Grateful Dead, dumbo.) But not even the Dead managed to put out LPs (like 1969’s Ummagumma) that I would ONLY listen to while I was on hallucinogens, because they were unlistenable to anyone on the uninitiated side of the doors of perception. That said, I’ve since put on Ummagumma and found its first side to be bearable and its second side to be complete and unadulterated bullshit (“Several Species of Small Furry Animals” or “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party (Entertainment),” anyone?). And while my recollections are hazy, I have come to the conclusion that the guy in the dorm who owned it was so far out there he’d only play side two while tripping balls.

The Pink Floyd story is a familiar one. The band was formed in London in 1965 by Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright, with David Gilmour coming aboard in 1967, destined to be the substitute for Barrett, who despite the band’s success and his status as the band’s chief songwriter was coming unhinged. After numerous legendary on-stage fiascos involving increasingly odd behavior on the part of Barrett—he might stand in the hot stage lights, crushed ludes melting in his hair, looking off into the distance with his arms dangling down, declining to play his guitar for the entire set—the band more or less decided to not pick him up for a gig, and just like that he was gone, although his living specter (he showed up, bald and bloated, at the Wish You Were Here sessions, and his evident madness left several of his former band mates in tears) would haunt the band and indeed inspire some of their best work.

As time went on the band moved from challenging works such as Ummagumma towards more commercial LPs, such as 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, which contained none of their trademark acid jams (“long psychedelic noodling stuff,” as Gilmour dismissively described them) and made them superstars. But I’m partial to its successor, 1974’s Wish You Were Here, in part because I’ve heard “Time” and “Money” so many times I scream in agony when they come on the radio, and I don’t think I could give the landmark LP they’re on an even break.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van der Graaf Generator, Godbluff

File under Acquired Taste I Don’t Want to Acquire. My ears have recoiled in horror at many a progressive rock album, but Van der Graaf Generator’s 1975 LP Godbluff isn’t prog-rock, it’s musical theater for people who wish Hamilton had been written by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Vocalist Peter Hammill wins an Obie for Shameless Histrionics, and ruinously over-emotes over those precious few moments when when the band condescends to play something interesting. Robert Benchley once quipped, “Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings.” A demoralizing thought indeed; here I’d been thinking of stabbing Hamill in the back just to shut him up.

Better minds than mine–Julian Cope being just one–have hailed Godbluff as a classic, but I simply can’t bear the sound of Hammill’s voice. It’s like he learned how to sing by listening endlessly to Jesus Christ Superstar. Some of the music’s listenable, at least in parts–both ”The Sleepwalkers” and “Arrow” have their shining moments, and saxophonist/flautist David Jackson’s performances don’t offend my tender aesthetic sensibilities. But every time I think, “Hey, this ain’t so bad!” 1) Hammill shows up and regurgitates on the thing or 2) the band abruptly switches gears, and rarely for the good.

It tells you everything you need to know about Van der Graaf Generator that they were only big in Italy. Opera originated in Italy, and its citizens enjoy listening to shrieking fat women in Viking helmets. To quote the immortal Don Rickles, “Italians are fantastic people, really. They can work you over in an alley while singing an opera.” Me, I’d like to work Peter Hammill over in an alley, period.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Doors,
Other Voices

Everybody knows The Doors died with Jim Morrison. Everybody except the band’s three surviving members, that is. They went on to record an album without Mr. Mojo Risin’ at the helm, proving that some people don’t know how to quit when they’re ahead. And then went on to release two more albums, proving that some people don’t know how to quit when they’re behind. They were that guest who, at the end of the night, refuses to leave the party.

The Doors weren’t the only band to outstay its welcome following the departure of its defining frontman. The Velvet Underground released an album (1973’s Squeeze) without Lou Reed, and Lynyrd Skynyrd reformed after the death of Ronnie Van Zant. But very few people at the time had ever heard of Lou Reed or the Velvet Underground, and Van Zant, while a musical genius, lacked Mr. Leather Pants’ stage presence, sex appeal, and aura of dark magic. Nor did he possess Morrison’s wonderful capacity for making a drunken spectacle of himself.

1971’s Other Voices raises an immediate question. To wit, why didn’t Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, who evidently went in search of a new frontman, try harder? Because both Manzarek and Krieger, who share lead vocals, have zero charisma and can’t sing a lick. And to make matters worse, Morrison’s lyrical talent went to the grave with him. He may not be the great poet some claim he is, but he’d have rather volunteered to parachute behind enemy lines in Vietnam than write a song entitled “I’m Horny, I’m Stoned.”

And more’s the pity, because a couple of songs on Other Voices stand on their musical merits. “Tightrope Ride” is a bracing garage rocker marred only by a mediocre bridge and, miracle of miracles, Manzarek actually holds up his end on vocals. And the trio strike lovely (and very un-Doors like) note on the piano-based “Wandering Musician,” which holds up despite Manzarek’s every effort to sabotage it with his wooden indian vocals.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Replacements,
The Shit Hits the Fans

Please allow me to begin this review with an anecdote, most likely apocryphal. Seems Minneapolis’ The Replacements went into a recording studio, and when they left the cleaning person, or whoever, found vomit–on the ceiling.

True or not, the story serves as a testimony to The Replacements’ reputation as a band of drunken don’t give a fucks–they were the band that got a big break in the form of an invitation to appear on Saturday Night Live and literally sabotaged themselves by getting drunk beforehand and sending the word “fuck” out to an entire nation–live and on the air. SNL producer Lorne Michaels’ exact words afterwards were “Your band will never perform on television again!”

The Replacements were infamous for the falling down drunk live shows; put ‘em on stage, and there was a good chance they’d muck it up. Whether they did so on purpose is a good question, but they seemed to take a perverse pleasure in falling apart in public. Songs would disintegrate in real time, vocalist Paul Westerberg and guitarist Bob Stinson might get into a tussle, and on many a night the band said to hell with playing their originals in favor of playing a bunch of cover songs they’d never played before. Depending on your point of view, such shows were either a rip-off or one of the most liberating experiences of your life.

This is where 1985’s The Shit Hits the Fans comes in. The cassette-only live album captures the band at their hit-or-miss best at a show in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and depending on who you talk to the cassette was a) seized from an illegal taper by the band’s sound guy or b) stolen by the band’s sound guy from the club’s manager, who’d asked for permission to record the show (Westerberg’s reply: “Why? We suck.”).

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Graded on a Curve:
The Pretty Things,
Greatest Hits

Mention England’s The Pretty Things, and most people will immediately direct your attention to 1968’s S.F. Sorrow, one of Western Civilization’s first rock operas (it preceded The Who’s Tommy by six months). Me, I prefer the band’s earlier, hard-driving R&B songs like “Rosalyn,” “Midnight to Six Man,” and “L.S.D.”

The pre-S.F. Sorrow Pretty Things specialized in a frenetic raunch-n-roll that split the difference between the Rolling Stones and Them. Powered by Phil May’s feral vocals and May’s stab to the heart guitar, the band’s sound was gritty as a mouthful of gravel, and you can hear them (as well as the band’s later psychedelic material) on 2017’s double LP Greatest Hits. Its 25 songs track the band from its R&B and blues-based early years through 1970’s Parachute, and make clear that Pretty Things were key players in the history of English rock ’n’ roll.

The 1964-66 Pretty Things were every bit the bad boys the Stones and The Who were, and quickly won a reputation for sowing chaos wherever they went. May claimed to have the longest hair in the UK; drummer Viv Prince’s mad behavior anticipated those of Keith Moon (and finally got hims sacked from the band). The band’s penchant for mayhem culminated in a 1965 stint in New Zealand, where they provoked as much outrage (and bad publicity) as The Who would later.

The early Pretty Things are best remembered for the 1964 song “Rosalyn,” which David Bowie covered on his 1973 LP Pinups. Bowie’s version reproduces the song’s primitive Bo Diddley beat, but Bowie’s vocals are positively enervated next to May’s Dionysian alley cat yowl. Ditto Pretty Thing’s 1964 hit “Don’t Bring Me Down.” Their version is furious, harmonica-fueled thing, and May goes at it in a full-throttle snarl. Bowie reproduces the song’s anarchic energy, but his singing’s prim, thin, mannered. It’s a case of savage vs. fop, and the savage wins hands down.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Who,
Live at Leeds

Many have called the Who’s 1970 Live at Leeds the best live album of all time. Me, I’ve always scoffed. It made no difference that I’d never actually sat down and listened to it. A good rock critic doesn’t have to actually listen to an LP before passing judgment on it. He simply knows, based on gut instinct and certain arcane and occult clues, whether an album is a dud or not. In the case of Live at Leeds, there are three clues to the album being rated far greater than deserved.

The first is the LP’s inclusion of “Summertime Blues,” a song that has always given me hives and put me off my dinner of Hormel’s Chili on hot dogs, which is the impoverished rock critic’s version of pan-fried foie gras with spiced citrus purée. The second is that Live at Leeds suffers—if only in one notable case—from that early seventies affliction, song bloat. You know what I’m talking about: live albums where the bands stretch their songs to extraordinary lengths, in some cases obscene two-sided lengths, forcing the stoned listener to stand up, stagger to the stereo in a Tuinal haze, and turn the damned record over to hear the second side. Finally, there was the issue of song selection: six tunes, three of them covers, with none of the covers being particular favorites of mine. And I’ve never been a big fan of one of the originals, “Magic Bus,” either.

Which has always left me to wonder, “What’s in it for me?” And I’m not alone; in particular, Live at Leeds failed to impress those twin pillars of rock criticism, the generally unintelligible Greil Marcus, who called the music dated and uneventful and the ever-crotchety Robert Christgau, who singled out “Magic Bus” for special abuse, calling it “uncool-at-any-length.”

Besides, I’ve always been more than satisfied with the three Who LPs I consider indispensible, namely Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia. As for the rest of the Who’s catalogue—including Tommy—I had no use for it. But having finally listened to the Live at Leeds, I’m flabbergasted; it may not be, as critic Nik Cohn called it, “the definitive hard-rock holocaust,” but it does rock balls, probably because the Who was the best live band in the world at the time.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Hold Steady,
Boys and Girls in America

The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn sure knows his way around the teenage wasteland. Since 2004 the Minneapolis native has been chronicling the chemically induced ups and day-after come downs of America’s “we’re desperate, get used to it,” youth, and in so doing has established himself as the poet laureate of the can’t feel my face crowd.

In songs that owe a debt to the Born to Run-era Bruce Springsteen, the unlikely teen champion Finn–whose voice falls somewhere on the continuum between the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli and a high school football coach–returns again and again to his favorite subject, the powders and pills and the damage down. You can find his kids at parties, the chillout tent at rock festivals, sleeping it off at afternoon matinees–anywhere and everywhere really, from your local florist to the laundromat.

On their third LP, 2006’s critically acclaimed Boys and Girls in America, the Hold Steady meld euphoric song craft–these songs soar–to Finn’s eye for the telling detail; his ability to channel the voices of kids walking the thin line between the bong hit and the detox unit (“We started recreational/It ended up all medical”) are surpassed, in this humble critic’s opinion, only by the Mountain Goat’s John Darnielle, whose We Shall All Be Saved had covered similar ground three years before. Both artists are empaths rather than Just Say No advocates; they sympathize with the lost boys (and girls) who populate their musical imaginations.

On song after song he drives home his message–the boys and girls of America “have such a sad time together,” and see wasted as the best way out. But he’s not talking exclusively to the kids–on the keyboard- and guitar-driven (the riff is straight up classic rock) “Stuck Between Stations” he name drops Jack Kerouac’s On the Road alter ego Sal Paradise before going on to tell the story of the poet John Berryman, struggled with alcoholism before leaping to his death off a bridge into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis (most of Finn’s songs are set in the Twin Cities).

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