The Hold steady’s fifth album,
Heaven Is Whenever
(Rough Trade), squares the circle that started in 2004.

Keyboardist Franz Nicolay’s departure sees the line-up down to a four-piece again; and they’re back with producer Dean Baltulonis, who worked on the band’s
first two records.

So is Heaven Is Whenever a welcome
return to the sound that
made their reputation? The Almost Killed Me-vintage Hold Steady would never have bothered with
the tight backing vocals that colour The Weekenders and We Can Get Together, or
the layered rootsy guitars
on which sits The Sweet Part Of The City.

It’s the songs that are the problem; not all of them,
sure, but enough to make this
a disappointment.

The album misses Nicolay’s keyboards; but more than that, it misses the musical variety and the massive choruses that he brought to the table. “The singalong songs will be our scriptures,” sang Craig Finn on
the title track of Stay Positive. There aren’t enough of them here.