This sounds great: it barrels out of the (especially car) speakers, the production is slick but in a good way (to my ear–I know longtime fans, of whom I am not one, may disagree), 70’s-style guitar-bass-drums but shinier, a little Bruce but more Iron City Houserockers (a great lost band). The guitar drones appropriately during the verses (which are about repetitive nights on the town) before finding a catchy little figure during the chorus (which offers a glimpse of hope) and then heading into a wailing solo after a bridge that articulates the song’s encouraging message. Craig Finn, singer and principal songwriter of the band, actually sings here, instead of just barking out too many words, which I’ve always found offputting in the past.
And the lyrics he’s singing? Hmmmm. It’s a familiar story: the singer, a man, observing a woman who is driving away her loneliness by going out to bars every night drinking and dancing and trying to find a new man. “Heartbreak hurts but you can dance it off.” Country singers have been writing about such honky tonk angels for much of the last century, and I’m sure Leadbelly has a song about a good-timing woman with a weight in her soul. There are probably operas about such characters.
Craig Finn chooses to emphasize the positive (one of The Hold Steady’s earlier albums was called “Stay Positive”). “It’s a big city, there’s a lot of love,” he says to this woman: offering possibility, urging her to keep going, keep doing what you’re doing, lightning could strike one night! And even if it doesn’t, he tells her, just being out there is a good thing: “Even the bad nights, they aren’t all that terrible” because “there might be a fight, there might be a miracle.” “Let the city live your life for you tonight,” he concludes, and then that great guitar solo comes in.
Apart from the whole male gaze issue, is this even good advice? Is it a good idea for this woman to go out and lose herself in music and alcohol every night, is that really a way toward a new life? Should you let the city live your life for you, is that enough? I kept thinking about that Dar Williams song where Dar sees a woman much like the one this song is describing, drunk and dancing alone, and describes her as being suspended on loneliness like grappling hooks (one of the scarier images I’ve heard in a song that get played on the radio). I thought of the great early Lucinda Williams song, “The Night Is Too Long,” where Lucinda sings about a woman who leaves her small town for the city just like the woman in “Spinners,” and also finds solace in being out every night with the crowd “where she can dance and toss her head back and laugh out loud.” But Lucinda locates the ache and desperation in her character in a way Craig–perhaps aware of the male gaze issue, he’s a smart guy–doesn’t, but maybe should. Sometimes the affirmation is too much of a stretch. Sometimes the cliche is true.