The Hold Steady – “Hurricane J”

The Hold Steady -- Hurricane J

They’re slipping soft rock into the set list now.

“Hurricane J,” the lead single from The Hold Steady’s new album Heaven is Whenever — set to be released May 4th — finds the New York foursome abandoning their signature blend of smoky, Springsteen-esque bar-rock in favor of a more streamlined, poppy sound. Surprisingly, it works.

Musically, the song features heavy doses of guitarist Tad Kubler’s exquisite backing vocals;  sinewy “ohh’s” and “ahh’s” that festoon the track at all the right moments, adding depth and texture wherever necessary. The song’s verses are simple, if unremarkable — but the chorus is big, in every sense of the word, and by the time the band reaches the bridge, they sound like they’re damn near soaring.

Lyrically, singer/guitarist Craig Finn is still obsessed with the minutia of teenage life in the Mid-west – this time he explores a character named Jesse, a 22-year-old waitress from the city. Although she’s good at her job (“you’re a beautiful girl/and you’re a pretty good waitress”), her life seems to be careening out of control. “Hurricane Jesse’s gonna crash into the harbor this summer,” goes the refrain, endlessly bleated by Tad and Craig in unison during the final few seconds of the song.

“Hurricane J” may sound like it was tailor-made to crash into the radio this summer, sure, but it still possesses a number of redeeming qualities. Plus, it’s new music from The Hold Steady. What more could you ask for?

Heaven Is Whenever is out in stores May 4th. “Hurricane J” can be streamed at The Hold Steady’s Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/theholdsteady