The Hold Steady might be Brooklyn-based, but frontman Craig Finn’s Minnesota roots dominate the band’s sixth album, Teeth Dreams. The record’s hot-rodding rock ’n’ roll—which sounds as radio-ready and slick as ever, thanks to production by Nick Raskulinecz—conjures the Twin Cities’ halcyon ’80s music scene: the junkyard jangle of Soul Asylum (“Wait Awhile”), The Replacements’ ragged classic-rock updates (“Runner’s High”) and Hüsker Dü’s burnt-out power-pop (“The Only Thing”).
Teeth Dreams’ characters are also familiar; they’re the same kind of restless spirits found on previous Hold Steady records, but these lost souls are more broken, downtrodden and, unfortunately, indistinct. For instance, while the bluesy guitar licks and genteel piano of “The Ambassador” are evocative, the song’s thematic tropes (menacing townies, clawing boredom, hints of violence) feel like caricatures. The music might be powerful, but its anxious lyrical soul-searching doesn’t quite hit as deeply.