Heaven Is Whenever, the new album from the Hold Steady can be heard – at least some of it – on the web. Four songs from the record are online: “Hurricane J”, “Rock Problems”, “The Weekenders” and, “Barely Breathing”.
The album comes out May 4, and the band rocks “The Colbert Report” on May 13.
Now without longtime keyboard player, Franz Nicolay, The Hold Steady will slightly tilt how they have sounded for the past half-decade. Nicolay announced he was leaving at the end of January, believing his ideas were a bit, shall we say, stifled?
He gave a majestic, elegant layer of sound to The Hold Steady, and was an important ingredient in their musical soup – I would argue as important as the spoken-sung vocals or the snarling guitars. Irreplaceable? Probably not. Judging from the new music, they’ll be fine. But different, subtly or more.
For the man who’s always seemed to be either the subliminal genius or annoying little brother in the band, he is on his own, with his solo debut album “Major General”. Nicolay, famous for the Rollie Fingers-like moustache, Roy Bittan sound, and the near-bombastic (for a sideman) stage manner, told Paste Magazine that “(The Hold Steady) have their one big idea — making literate, wordy lyrics over big anthemic rock — and the last two records were about as good as I felt like I could do with that idea.”
“I told the band I’d be leaving in early September, and played my last show with them in Minneapolis around Thanksgiving” he wrote on his website.
Nicolay says he took part in recording sessions for the band’s new album last September, but his parts were re-recorded by another keyboardist.
He talks of banjos and tap dancing in most of the interviews I read online, so adjust your expectations accordingly.