THE HOLD STEADY; Band Channels Springsteen, Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy and More While Putting Its Own Stamp on Rock 'N' Roll

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Byline: JEFF VRABEL

If rock 'n' roll has always been the soundtrack to restless, confused adolescence, Craig Finn and The Hold Steady have taken its most romanticized elements -- escapism, nervous love, frequent bursts of lively panic -- and put a killer twist on them.

A storyteller whose words stream out in sentences rather than verses, Finn writes stories about growing up with as much sharp-eyed nostalgia as the Beach Boys, Replacements or Bruce Springsteen. In fact, though he represents the suburbs of Minneapolis, Finn proves himself a devout Bruce disciple on Hold Steady's 2004 debut, The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me, and its 2005 follow-up, Separation Sunday. Both are layered with variations on youthful, Boss-ian themes, both below the surface and well above it (from Charlemagne in Sweatpants: "Tramps like us, and we like tramps").

But if Springsteen's legacy is in perfecting the rock-as-redemption thing, Finn's may be in hanging it upside down by its heels and shaking out its change all over the boardwalk.

"There's a lot of teenage nostalgia in rock 'n' roll, and Sunday is a teenage album," Finn said last week. "And it's a suburban album. When I was 16, I was able to get my driver's license, and growing up the suburbs, that means you suddenly have this amazing new freedom."

Sunday also boasts more overt Catholicism than any secular album in recent memory. Finn, who was brought up Catholic and attended Boston College, doesn't go to church, but he can't consider himself lapsed, either. "When people used to say, 'Are you Catholic?' I'd say no," he said. "But then I thought that might not be entirely accurate. I certainly do not go to church, nor do I subscribe to some of the beliefs of the Catholic church, but it was such an important part of me becoming who I am that it was a big part of the genesis of the record. Redemption, salvation, forgiveness -- those are beautiful, profound things you can always come back to."

That said, despite never once advocating Satanism or gayness and assigning a starring, reverent role to the Big Guy, the crises of faith conveyed in Sunday may alarm anyone who put forth any effort to, say, cancel The Book of Daniel. "I'm sure there are Catholic priests who would find it really blasphemous, but the chances of them hearing the Hold Steady record are slim to none," he said with a laugh. …