- "It's one thing to start it with a positive jam, and it's another thing to see it on through."—line from the titular track
The fourth album by The Hold Steady (and per their style, a narrative Concept Album), Stay Positive is known primarily for detailing perspectives of a small town murder, with the involvement of the band's usual Power Trio of Holly, Gideon, and Charlemagne as mostly interpretive. Craig Finn wanted the album to head in a more psychologically mature direction and explore staying true to more youthful philosophies through adulthood. This theme allows the band to utilize its iconic Continuity Porn (especially in the titular track, which alone references four songs from the band's past) in a way that strengthens its album's ability to Call-Back on previously established events and ideas and display the effect they have on maturing points of view. The album name itself came from the signature Finn used to sign autographs with, noting that telling people to "stay positive" usually implies that they're facing negative circumstances.
Franz Nicolay described the album as his favorite for being the most "grounded" and "integrated" of the band's past sounds, indicating the thematic results of capturing a more mindful approach to adult problems goes beyond the lyrical. The last song on the album, "Slapped Actress," indirectly references the 1977 film Opening Night, which would ultimately paint the subjects of the album (the murderers) in a portrait of denial to accept responsibility for their actions despite being forced to cope with their consequences (the line "sometimes actresses get slapped" referring to a slap of reality). Having kicked things off with "Constructive Summer," a much more idealistic song about the anticipation of youthful rebellion, the change in tone by Stay Positive's conclusion has walked its listeners through the coping strategies of several different perspectives dealing with the same homicidal conflict.