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The Hold Steady: Separation Sunday (Album Review)

Singer/lyricist Craig Finn and his fellow Hold Steady players revisit much of the same turf first heard on the band’s impressive 2004 debut, Almost Killed Me. Separation Sunday is less a sophomore effort than a continuation of Finn’s documenting of people he has known and the group’s desire to unapologetically rock out. Characters like the morally loose Halleluiah (called Holly by her friends), menacing pusher-pimp Charlemagne and freewheeling Gideon (the “cowboy on the cross-town bus” from Almost’s “Sweet Payne”) make return appearances. And Finn’s juxtaposition of the sacred and profane has been sharpened to a fine point: “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” mentions Jesus and a tattooed phrase on a girl’s lower back that confidently proclaims “Damn right you’ll rise again.” There are literary references, from Nabokov’s pedophiliac Humbert Humbert on opener “Hornets! Hornets!” to a diverse group of writers (William Butler Yates and William Blake, being two of the more notable ones) name-checked on the frenetic “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night,” not to mention repeated lists of saints and kids desiring to be saved before destroying themselves. Separation Sunday isn’t quite on par with Almost Killed Me, primarily because it won’t stun listeners with its freshness. Only the next record will tell whether Finn exhausts his reservoir of tales before consumers lose interest. (Laurence Station)