Indeed, Teeth Dreams has only little bits in common with the band's pre-hiatus work that led up to the musically sharp but relatively weak lyrics on Heaven Is Whenever (2010). And most notable about the change they seem to have undergone is that what used to be alternative with punk leanings now feels like band-backed blue collar rock and roll. The Springsteen influences are now hugely obvious.
He's not the only influence, mind you. The production work of Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Rush) at Rock Falcon Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, is all over the album too. It makes the whole affair more accessible than anything the band has tried in the past, while also giving up more room for Finn to carve out some details that have always brought out the best of his work.
Teeth Dreams is a melodramatic return and reinvention.
When you add it all up, the reason Teeth Dreams really works as an album is because Finn really does make it feel like he has gone back to the Minnesota that he loves to source for stories. But in doing so, he and the band forward the idea that he is a different man than the one who left it all behind.
So as much as a landscape we leave makes us who we are, so do the experiences we have in its absence, making any return to it less of a homecoming and more of a reconciliation as a stranger among the familiar. Much of Teeth Dreams feels like that. It's a stranger among the familiar, opening with I Hope The Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You.
Frighten You has exactly the kind of lyrics one would expect from Finn looking back with one foot in the past and one in the present. It's a song about old friends who haven't changed so much and yet it still frightens him to think you used to have something in common. Or, maybe more precisely, it might frighten anyone you bring along with you.
Spinners is another such story, almost like looking in on a friend or former lover. In this is one, his story centers on a girl who tries to forget her heartbreak by getting back out there and doing things. But the solution doesn't lead to resolution. Sometimes it just complicates everything even more.
The Only Thing is another breakup song, but with its focus on the reunion long afterward as opposed to the split. The track is striking because it draws out the awkwardness of seeing someone again when all you have left between each other are some memories. Lyrically, it is one of the more overlooked tracks on the album.
In contrast, the balladic The Ambassador is another reunion track that feels significantly more bittersweet despite being tied more to a location than a person. It might even be that absence of the people who used to frequent there is so haunting as a memory. It's like revisiting an old neighborhood and not knowing anyone who lives there anymore.
Teeth Dreams By The Hold Steady Echoes 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
After these opening tracks, there are no particular high points but there are plenty of highlights. Big Cig attempts to elevate the album back to a rocker. Runner's High has some decent riffs slipped in by Selvidge. And Almost Everything gives the album an acoustic moment before Finn breaks into his desperately epic 9-minute song Oaks, which gives the album's conclusion a fadeout completion.