Compared to some of this great band's output, Killer Parties seems relatively quiet and unassuming. There's this long, languid, "we'll start when we're good and ready" intro, that somehow feels menacing without trying to. (Natural One by Folk Implosion always struck me the same way). Then Craig Finn comes in, his line almost feeling likes it's an afterthought, as though they could happily jam through this groove for hours but hell, he'd better say something, telling us to be vague if anyone asks us about Charlemagne (ridiculous, as after listening to this album on repeat for about 6 months in 2004 i was anything but vague when telling people about Charlemagne, or Gideon, or Holly for that matter). He proceeds to offer us advice as to the proper way to respond if challenged by someone (why were you there? why did you leave?) as though we're a gang getting our stories straight after that final bank job. This is 5:48 chronicling a feeling that something has gone wrong. Something that felt really great to begin with.
It's a song that feels like it's about young love and experiencing life, about not experiencing life, a song about survival. It's not the only Hold Steady song to include the line "almost killed me", but it's the only one where it seems to be delivered tinged with regret.
It's a song that comes from one of the genuine stone cold instant classic albums of the decade, that includes more great lines and moments than most bands can manage over the course of a career. An album that always feels it's about to lose it's way, because no band comes in swinging this confident on it's debut.
It seems fitting that the album finishes with this, and with the line "we woke up in Ybor City". This song feels like the morning after. It feels like you've just had the greatest time of your life, lived through it and you know with unshakeable certainty that it can only go downhill from here. You know that life should be this endless search for unattainable perfection, and it's unfair that you'd get there so soon.
You know you'll probably spend the remainder of your time on this planet trying to find your way back there, if you could just work out where it was. But you really don't remember, you just remember that you departed from your bodies.
[Album: Almost Killed Me]