Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mustachioed Hold Steady keyboard player Franz Nicolay had a thriving music career both as a solo artist and a sideman before he signed on to serve Craig Finn and Tad Kubler's vision of party-ready pulp-rock. On his solo album Major General, Nicolay showcases that versatility, moving from rousing piano ballads to tinkly cabaret to meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll, all delivered in a hyper-dramatic voice that sounds gripping at times and embarrassingly over-the-top at others. For the most part, Major General comes off like a respectable sampler of regional singer-songwriter music. These are the kind of songs that would've been beloved by the regulars at a rocker bar in some mid-sized American city, circa 1986, though Nicolay not the kind of artist born to break wide. Still, Major General does contain one shining moment: the album-opener, "Jeff Penalty," a stomping, moving apology to The Dead Kennedys' post-Jello Biafra lead singer. "The punks all still sang along," Nicolay admits, by way of paying tribute to workmanlike rockers everywhere.


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