The Hold Steady makes a unlikely combination of elements work. The music is composed almost entirely of rock clichés -- though they are played with a lot of life. Not everything is about originality. The songs manage to activate the information in these clichés, releasing a superficial but real quality of feeling. That's one of the main powers of pop music. The band is tight, and all the instrumental timbres work well.
This music is combined with a singer who does not sing, he vocalizes like a guy alone in a car, yelling the lyrics of Born To Run over his cassette player in an earnest, woozy monotone, but landing right on the bar and capturing something essential about the rhythm and vocal timbres. Incredibly -- this also works. There are only a handful of bands that can pull off a yelling/talking approach-- The Fall, Can, Slint, This Heat....
If you removed the music and left the vocal track it would sound like a recording of high-level slam poetry. There are moments where I'm like, "Man- would you just sing already, "but the Dylan-quality lyrics occupy the space where my brain is crying out for vocal melody. There's also a rock-theater, Frank's Wild Years-like unity to the character portraits of fried rockers at various parties and underpasses.